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– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Russia Vetoes UN Mission in Georgia
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Cole Harvey

Russia voted against extending the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in the Security Council June 15, scuttling a last-minute effort to renew the mission's mandate and dealing another blow to the already strained Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty.

The vote ended the nearly 16-year-old mission to help keep the peace between Georgia and its breakaway territory of Abkhazia. In a press release following the vote, the Russian Foreign Ministry called the proposed extension of the mandate "useless in the present situation" because it does not refer to Abkhazia as an independent state. Moscow recognized the independence of Abkhazia and nearby South Ossetia following Russia's conflict with Georgia in August 2008.

UNOMIG was established in 1994 to monitor a ceasefire between Georgia and separatists in Abkhazia following a series of conflicts after the fall of the Soviet Union. The mission set up a demilitarized zone along the Abkhazian border and a broader region where heavy weapons were not permitted. As of February, UNOMIG was staffed by 151 international uniformed personnel.

British, French, and U.S. diplomats wanted to extend the UNOMIG mandate with a reference to Security Council Resolution 1808, in which the council reaffirmed the territorial integrity of Georgia. Russia's ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said there was no sense in extending the original mandate "since it's built on old realities." Ten states in the Security Council voted in favor of the extension, with four abstentions. Russia was the only country to vote against the resolution, but, as a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia has veto power.

Russia signed treaties of friendship with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in September 2008 and pledged to guarantee the security of the two territories. Under the mutual assistance pacts, Russia is setting up one military base in each territory and has taken responsibility for guarding the Abkhazian and South Ossetian borders.

Moscow's decision to recognize the independence of the two territories and to commit military forces to their defense further clouds the future of the 1990 CFE Treaty. The treaty, which governs military force levels in Europe, was adapted by its parties in 1999 to take into account the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the expansion of NATO. The adapted treaty has not come into force, pending ratification by the NATO states.

At the 1999 Istanbul summit that produced the Adapted CFE, Russia made a nonbinding "political" commitment to shutter its military bases in Georgia and to reduce its military presence there. Russia continued to maintain a small "peacekeeping" garrison in Abkhazia after the 1999 summit, and NATO countries refused to ratify the adapted treaty while those forces remained in Georgia. (See ACT, January/February 2007.) Frustrated by the NATO refusal to ratify the Adapted CFE, President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia's implementation of the original treaty Dec. 12, 2007. (See ACT, January/February 2008.)

Addressing the Security Council after the vote last month, Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. alternative representative for special political affairs at the UN, said the United States "deeply regrets" the failure to extend the UNOMIG mandate and stressed the importance of a UN presence in Georgia.

An EU observer mission is now operating in Georgia, but it will end Oct. 1 unless its mandate is extended by the EU member states. In a June 15 statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry called these observers a "considerable restraining factor" on tensions in the region and said that Russia is "ready to continue and strengthen our cooperation with the European Union in this area." Unlike the UN monitors, however, the EU observers do not have free access to territory inside Abkhazia.