Foreign ministers agree details of Georgia mission

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EU foreign affairs ministers agreed during a meeting in Brussels yesterday (15 September) to send 200 observers before 1 October to monitor the ceasefire in Georgia and appointed French Ambassador Pierre Morel as the bloc’s special representative for Georgia.

Pierre Morel will be in charge of supervising the “European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM)” and its budget of €31m over the initial period of one year. The mission’s headquarters will be in Tbilisi, with regional field offices. 

The EUMM will not be under UN or OSCE authority. Instead, it will be an autonomous mission led by the EU under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

Morel, 64, is a former ambassador to Russia (1992-1996) and is currently the EU representative to Central Asia. He will work under the authority of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and his mandate will be agreed shortly, sources said. 

France appears to have a leading role in defining the EUMM mission, with Paris providing over a third of the observers. The head of the EUMM is yet to be selected. 

EU ministers also agreed to hold an independent international investigation into the conflict in Georgia, the details of which are still to be set. 

Meanwhile, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner announced a package of €500 million “in order to have something on the table” on the occasion of the Georgia donors conference to be held in October. 

Part of this will go towards energy and infrastructure in Georgia, the commissioner announced, highlighting fears that the EU’s flagship Nabucco pipeline project, which aims to bring gas to Europe from countries other than Russia via Georgian territory, could be up in the air following the Russian invasion of Georgia (EURACTIV 25/08/08).  

"Our intention is to work on a package of stability and growth for Georgia in four areas," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, namely dealing with the displaced persons, rehabilitation and economic recovery, macroeconomic and macro-financial stabilisation, and infrastructure and energy. 

Following the meeting, Bernard Kouchner, who heads French diplomacy, strongly defended the peace plan brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. 

As if in response to recent criticism from NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who said in a recent interview with the Financial Times that the plan cedes too much ground to Moscow (EURACTIV 15/09/08), Kouchner stressed that the EU was the only one to respond when the crisis erupted. Neglecting to mention NATO military build-up in the Black Sea, Kouchner said: "Except the EU, nobody was present in Georgia." 

"The negotiations were not easy, in Moscow as in Tbilisi, especially in Moscow. The document which President Sarkozy signed with President Medvedev and President Saakashvili is not perfect. No peace negotiations produce a perfect document from the beginning. Never, never, never," said Kouchner. 

"On 12 August, a peace plan was needed. The EU French Presidency did what it could so that the Russian troops would not continue until Tbilisi and President [Saakashvili] would not be obliged to step down […] Then the calendar of troops' retreat had to be negotiated, and this is what we did last week. All this is very imperfect, I know. We all know it. I know there always will be disagreements on interpretation, but […] today we all rejoice that the Russian troops around Poti and on the respective checkpoints have already withdrawn," the French minister further elaborated. 

Kouchner expects the arrival of EU observers - "who will be at least 200 and probably more" - in Georgian areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to trigger the departure of Russian troops from these areas. A further negotiation round is expected on 16 or 17 October in Geneva, he added. The Geneva meeting had previously been scheduled for 15 October, which Kouchner said was a "mistake", since this is the date of the next EU summit. The format and the modalities of the Geneva meeting remain to be decided upon, he admitted. 

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 in the following days, but Moscow has since defied the West by leaving troops in Georgia and setting up road checkpoints. 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. They also decided to send international monitors to Georgia. 

Foreign affairs ministers were meeting on 15 September to agree on the modalities of the observer mission to Georgia. Meanwhile in an interview, NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer criticised the EU peace plan, which in his eyes cedes too much ground to Moscow. 

  • 16 or 17 Oct. 2008: Further round of international negotiations expected in Geneva, with the participation of Georgia and Russia.

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