EU to keep peace after Moscow OKs Georgia pull-out

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The EU delegation to Russia, led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy yesterday (8 September), succeeded in convincing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to agree to a complete withdrawal of troops from Georgia proper – although Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain outside the scope of the agreement. Russia also recognised the EU’s role as “guarantor of peace” in the country.

Despite press reports that Sarkozy threatened to walk out of the stormy talks, held in the neo-Gothic Meiendorf castle near Moscow, the two sides finally managed to adopt a so-called agreement on the ‘Implementation of the plan of 12 August 2008’. The plan foresees a complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgian territory proper (which excludes Abkhazia and South Ossetia) within 10 days of the deployment of “international mechanisms”, including at least 200 EU observers. The EU contingent will replace Russian peacekeepers and are scheduled to arrive on 1 October. 

The Russian President recognises the EU’s role of “guarantor of peace”, according to a press release from the Presidency website. 

“The parties agreed that as guarantor of the principle of non-aggression, the European Union will actively prepare the deployment of an observer mission in addition to the existing observer mechanisms,” says the document. 

Unresolved issues 

Despite the significant advances, Sarkozy’s frustration showed at times during a joint press conference with Medvedev, also attended by European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. 

Asked if he had effectively allowed Russia to alter Georgia’s borders by leaving the two disputed provinces out of the deal, Sarkozy retorted: 

“All has not been resolved. We are aware of that. But what has been resolved has been considerable.” Hailing the deal, he said both the EU and Russia had avoided “a cold war that we don’t need”. 

For his part, Medvedev blamed the United States for the crisis. Georgia, he said, initially “received the blessing of one government. I can’t say how it was given, whether through direct instruction or tacit approval. But there is no doubt that it happened,” Medvedev said.

The Russian president also made clear that Russia’s withdrawal of forces depended on Georgia signing a “non-aggression pact” with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 

Georgian intransigence 

The EU trio then flew to Tbilisi, where it was received by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili. While welcoming the EU mediation as “a step forward”, Saakashvili reiterated that his country would not agree to cede Abkhazia and South Ossetia and that the Russian military “should get the hell out”. 

“We have long way ahead towards restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity. There is no way Georgia will ever give up a piece of its sovereignty, a piece of its territory,” Saakashvili said. 

Saakashvili also announced that a summit focused on reconstruction would take place in Tbilisi next month with the backing of Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

Meanwhile, Georgia and Russia carried their dispute over the breakaway provinces to the International Court of Justice in The Hague on 8 September, as three days of hearings began over Georgia’s request for an injunction ordering Russia to stop “terrorising” ethnic Georgians and allow refugees to return to their homes. 

On 7 August, Georgian troops invaded the breakaway region of South Ossetia, which is - like the other disputed province of Abkhazia - officially part of the territory of Georgia, but in fact autonomous and largely under Russian influence. Russia responded with massive military action, invading part of Georgia and prompting fears in the West that it may seek to use the occasion to topple Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western Georgian president, and turn Georgia into a vassal state like during Soviet times. 

France brokered a deal to end the war over South Ossetia last month, but Moscow has since defied the West by leaving troops in "security zones" along the lines separating Georgia from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another rebel region. Russia's decision to recognise the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia further stretched ties with the West. 

On 1 September, EU leaders held an extraordinary summit and decided to freeze talks on a new basic EU-Russia treaty until Moscow fully complies with the peace plan. For this reason, they also decided to send international monitors to Georgia on the understanding that their increased presence would mean that Moscow could no longer justify keeping troops in those areas, thus accepting international talks on a new security blueprint for the rebel regions. 

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