David J. Smith*
Last Sunday, Avtandil Akhaladze died of shrapnel wounds sustained when the ambulance he was driving struck a landmine. His MediClub ambulance was on a European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) patrol near the Mingrelian town of Muzhava. “I am very concerned,” said EUMM Chief Hansjörg Haber, “that our preliminary findings on this incident indicate that this was a deliberate attack on our patrol, going about its daily duties.”
The EUMM has operated in Georgia since October 1, 2008, pursuant to the Six-Point Ceasefire Agreement that ended the August 2008 hot phase of Russia’s war on Georgia. Its 246 unarmed monitors from 26 countries have the mandate to monitor compliance with the Six-Point Agreement throughout the territory of Georgia, although Russia denies them access to the Georgian territories that it occupies.
Muzhava is on a narrow strip of Georgian-controlled land sandwiched between the Enguri River and the Russian-occupied Abkhazia Region. The main road to the town, which comes from the occupation zone, has reportedly been dynamited, almost stranding the ethnic Georgian residents of the area. Reportedly, Abkhaz separatists have been forcing ethnic Georgians from their homes there, they say, for security reasons.
At around 0400 of the day after the attack on the EUMM patrol, a Georgian Police post in Muzhava came under fire. At 0630, a nearby pylon on the Kavkasioni electricity transmission line was damaged by mortar fire; Russian forces barred Georgian personnel dispatched to repair the power line.
Recent events in vulnerably located Muzhava could be an Abkhaz separatist gambit at once to grab and ethnically cleanse another bit of Georgian territory. Not inconsistent with this explanation is the possibility that mines and mortars in Muzhava presage imminent escalation of Russian aggression against Georgia. Recall that similar forewarnings in and around Abkhazia preceded Russia’s attack on Georgia last August.
It is also likely—again, consistent with other explanations—that recent events in Muzhava were meant to warn the EUMM against any ambitions to fulfill its mandate throughout Georgian territory.
This fits with Moscow’s veto last week of the renewal of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which had access to a swathe of territory along the administrative border between Abkhazia and Mingrelia. Earlier, it vetoed renewal of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Georgia, which observed the conflict zone in South Ossetia. In sum, Russia has blinded the international community to what it is doing in the occupied Georgian territories of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the Akhalgori District and the Village of Perevi.
Behind its veil of secrecy, Russia can continue to strengthen military logistics, perhaps preparing another armed attack on the rest of Georgia. Meanwhile, Russian occupiers and local cronies can run criminal enterprises, terrorize remaining residents and seize property unobserved—as they are reportedly doing in Muzhava.
Now, the EUMM is the most likely organization to mount an attempt to extend international eyes and ears and to bring something approaching the rule of law to the Russian-occupied territories. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the Six-Point Ceasefire Agreement, which underpins the EUMM. Moscow cannot veto EU decisions. And the EUMM is established already with considerable experience in Georgia. Most important, though it cannot force its way past the Russian Army, the EUMM has faithfully fulfilled its mandate to the extent possible, consistently insisting that the mandate extends to Russian-occupied territories.
Meanwhile, the western countries demonstrated in the UNOMIG case that they can unite to positive effect. Regrettably, Russia vetoed renewal of UNOMIG with the traditional language reaffirming Georgian territorial integrity, which would have been the best outcome. However, the western countries stuck together, forcing Moscow publicly to take responsibility for its mischief, which was the next best outcome.
Now, they must parlay this diplomatic success and the EUMM’s success on the ground to continue to press Russia for compliance with the Six-Point agreement. With regard to monitoring, the EUMM must continue its excellent work and its mandate must be renewed next October without question. Part of that excellent work remains to insist that it be granted access, in accordance with its mandate, to the Russian-occupied Georgian territories.
Further, the EU should indicate its will to enlarge the EUMM and to amend its mandate to include police powers, in agreement with Georgia as host country.
Of course, Russia will continue to deny access to the EUMM, whatever its form. The principle is to bring to bear logical, quiet but firm diplomacy that Moscow will come to understand impinges on many other aspects of its relations with the rest of the world.
It is unreasonable, for example, to expect the 2014 Winter Olympics to go ahead in Sochi when just a few kilometers away, Russia has created a lawless land in Abkhazia.
Published in Tbilisi, June 24, 2009
*David J. Smith is Director, Georgian Security Analysis Center, Tbilisi, and Senior Fellow, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Washington.
It’s Up to You, EUMM