The U.S. warned Georgia on February 9 demand that the Russian peacekeeping troops withdraw from the South Ossetian conflict zone “without anything in their place may be destabilizing.”
This reaction by the U.S. on this issue comes ahead of parliamentary hearings scheduled for February 15, wherein the Georgian lawmakers will discuss the peacekeepers’ performance in South Ossetia. Most statements being made by the Georgian government members and senior parliamentarians indicate that the Parliament will most likely vote for a withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers.
MP Kote Gabashvili, who chairs the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, told Civil Georgian on February 9 that the Georgian Parliament will adhere to its hard-line stance on the peacekeepers, despite this position by the U.S.
Speaking at the OSCE Permanent Council on February 9 U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Julie Finley said that Georgia should show caution while making a decision about the peacekeepers in South Ossetia.
“The United States urges the sovereign Parliament of Georgia to proceed with caution as it considers how to address the question of the effectiveness of the Joint Peace Keeping Force. We agree, and OSCE reports verify that the JPKF could be more effective. Still, a request for the peacekeepers to leave without anything in their place may be destabilizing,” the U.S. Ambassador stated.
She also called on Tbilisi “to contribute its full complement of forces to maintain the proper balance within the JPKF.”
Each side in the JPKF – Georgia, Russia and Ossetia – is authorized to deploy a maximum 500 servicemen in the conflict zone as part of the peacekeeping forces. But Georgia has not filled its quota.
“This [full complement of forces] should be done in strict coordination with existing mechanisms, in full transparency, and in accordance with previous agreements,” Ambassador Finley stated.
These “existing mechanisms” refers to the quadripartite - Georgia, South Ossetia, Russia and North Ossetia - negotiating body, the Joint Control Commission (JCC). Tbilisi has intensified its efforts recently to change this, as Georgian officials put it, “unfair” arrangement, but have failed so far because of resistance from Russia.
Senor MP from the ruling National Movement party Kote Gabashvili, the chairman of the parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, says that the statement by the U.S. Ambassador was “ordinary diplomatic advice from a friend.”
“We should not overestimate the importance of this statement by the United States,” MP Gabashvili told Civil Georgia on February 9.
He said that the U.S. called for caution while making a decision on the peacekeepers and Georgia is following this advice.
"The U.S. calls on us not to take such steps that might trigger provocations," Gabashvili added.
“We did not demand the immediate withdrawal of the peacekeepers four months ago - when the Parliament passed the resolution on this issue - because we were very cautious regarding this issue. We want to thoroughly explain to the world why their presence [the Russian peacekeepers] in the conflict zone is not productive – this hampers the implementation of the peace plan which has been supported by the OSCE, including at the today’s session [of the OSCE Permanent Council],” he said.
He reiterated that on February 13 the parliamentary committees for foreign relations and defense and security will discuss the performance of the Russian peacekeepers in the South Ossetian conflict zone, while on February 15 the Parliament will adopt "a relevant decision."
Local political observers say that the position taken by the U.S. seems to be somewhat of a surprise for official Tbilisi, which is now in a difficult situation, as refusal to demand the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers will be an extremely unpopular step. Observers say that if the Parliament refuses to vote for a withdrawal of the peacekeepers. this action will be met with a negative public response, especially against the background of numerous recent statements made by Georgian senior officials against the Russian troops.