Cheerful Weekend Reading

In a fit of timeliness, I have read the first volume of the report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia (IIFFMCG), colloquially known as the Tagliavini report. The report drew attention when it was published at the end of September for its headline findings about the escalation of the conflict on 7-8 August 2008 and who bore the responsibility for them. But there’s a lot more in the first part. (The account of the conflict and the conclusions of the Mission are the first, 44-page volume of the report. Expert contributions comprise the second and much larger volume, while materials submitted by parties to the conflict comprise the still-larger third.)

Here are what I see as the key paragraphs:

36.) This Report shows that any explanation of the origins of the conflict cannot focus solely on the artillery attack on Tskhinvali in the night of 7/8 August and on what then developed into the questionable Georgian offensive in South Ossetia and the Russian military action. The evaluation also has to cover the run-up to the war during the years before and the mounting tensions in the months and weeks immediately preceding the outbreak of hostilities. It must also take into account years of provocations, mutual accusations, military and political threats and acts of violence both inside and outside the conflict zone. It has to consider, too, the impact of a great power’s coercive politics and diplomacy against a small and insubordinate neighbour, together with the small neighbour’s penchant for overplaying its hand and acting in the heat of the moment without careful consideration of the final outcome, not to mention its fear that it might permanently lose important parts of its territory through creeping annexation. We also notice with regret an erosion of the respect of established principles of international law such as territorial integrity, and at the same time an increased willingness on all sides to accept the use of force as a means to reach one’s political goals and to act unilaterally instead of seeking a negotiated solution, as difficult and cumbersome as such a negotiation process might be. …

From the report’s Observations:

4.) It has also become apparent that the effectiveness of monitoring, peacekeeping and other stabilising institutions and arrangements depends to a large extent on the trust and confidence in which they are being held by the parties to the conflict. This is in most cases directly related to the impartiality which the parties attribute to them, and this in turn is immediately linked to their country of origin or to the country thought to be in control. This is the case whether there is in reality bias or not. …

6.) As far as the international presence in the conflict areas is concerned, we witnessed the dismantling of important elements such as the presence of the OSCE and of UNOMIG. The phasing out of other arrangements such as the “Friends of the United Nations Secretary General” was another consequence. The CIS Peacekeeping Force as well as JPKF and the JCC ceased to exist. The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) introduced a European presence as such in the region for the first time, but they were not admitted to the South Ossetian and Abkhaz sides.

There is as yet no adequate replacement for the dismantled international presence and namely its main pillars UNOMIG and OSCE Mission to Georgia, and while EUMM should continue its duties, further efforts should be made to provide for an independent, neutral and effective international presence of peacekeeping in the conflict area.

9.) Destabilising effects may also result from a country’s assertive pursuit of foreign policy objectives concerning privileged spheres of interest, in particular with regard to neighbouring countries, for such a policy is set to deprive smaller States of their freedom of choice and to limit their sovereignty.

Political concepts and notions such as privileged spheres of interest or otherwise laying claim to any special rights of interference into the internal or external affairs of other countries are irreconcilable with international law. They are dangerous to international peace and stability and incompatible with friendly relations among States. They should be rejected.

The problems underlying the conflict are no better, and in numerous cases worse, than before the fighting in August 2008.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.