Accompanied by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Commission President José Manuel Barroso, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is in Moscow today (8 September) before heading to Tbilisi this evening to discuss the implementation of the peace plan he brokered at the outbreak of the Russia-Georgia conflict a month ago.
According to the Russian media, the fact that Sarkozy will this time be accompanied by other EU representatives – unlike his first visit on 12 August – follows US pressure, with Washington not keen for the French president to remain the main peacemaker in the Caucasus. But other observers consider the enlarged EU delegation as a reaction to criticism that Sarkozy’s peace plan was too foggy and allowed Russian interpretations that contradicted the EU’s view (EURACTIV 29/08/08).
Lost in translation
Speaking at an informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Avignon (EURACTIV 05/09/08), French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner blamed differences in the interpretation of the six-point plan, notably concerning what Russia calls “buffer zones” around South Ossetia and Abkhazia, on “a translation problem”.
“[It’s] the translation, as always,” Koucher lamented, referring to the fact that the document was signed in French and then translated into English and Russian.
The main glitch involved a passage in the Russian version that spoke of security “for South Ossetia and Abkhazia” – whereas the English version spoke of security “in” the two areas.
The wording matters because it refers to “buffer zones” that Russia has created in undisputed Georgian territory – zones that Moscow says it must hold to prevent Georgian forces from threatening the breakaway provinces.
The EU envoys will try to convince Russia to reverse its recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But this will not be an easy task, with European diplomats already starting to use such terms as “Georgia proper” in reference to the territories of Georgia without the two breakaway regions recently recognised as independent by Russia.
The “translation” glitch serves as an example of the kind of problems the EU may expect to encounter during the Moscow talks.
Unclear mandate for observers
At the Moscow meeting, the EU intends to discuss sending aound 200 EU observers to the conflict area. Their main aim would be to replace Russian forces in the so-called buffer zone around South Ossetia. But the EU observers’ mandate and area of responsibility remains unclear, while Solana himself admitted that new observers could only go to the region with the blessing of the Russian authorities. At the moment, there are 20 European observers in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict area under the banner of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), in which Russia is an important stakeholder.
The EU envoys also plan to discuss the possibility of creating an international commission to investigate war crimes and atrocities, which both sides accuse one another of perpetrating.
At the Avignon meeting, Poland, Britain, Sweden and the Baltic countries again pressed for a hard line toward Russia (EURACTIV 02/09/08), but officials said specific sanctions were not discussed. Kouchner also refused to discuss how the 27-nation bloc would respond if Russia continued to delay compliance.
Commission President José Manuel Barroso said in Avignon: “We are interested in having a constructive relationship with Russia. […] We need cool heads. Not a cold war.”