Parliament unanimously approved, with 179 votes, on February 15 a resolution instructing the government “to revise the Sochi agreement from 24 June 1992” and to secure a replacement for the current peacekeeping operation in South Ossetia “with an effective international peacekeeping operation.” The Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPKF) were stationed in the South Ossetian conflict zone under the Sochi agreement in 1992.
The resolution does not, however, set deadlines or timeframes for the government to implement these instructions.
Opposition parliamentarians fear that this resolution gives the possibility for double-interpretation and is a step back from the hard-line October 11 resolution.
However, the opposition supported the document regardless. “It is very important to show the unity of all political forces over this very important issue,” MP Davit Gamkrelidze of the New Rights opposition party explained.
The February 15 resolution described Russia’s actions in breakaway South Ossetia “as a permanent attempt of annexation of this region of Georgia.”
The second article of this resolution instructs the Georgian Government “to enforce procedures in order to implement the instructions defined by articles 4 and 6 of the Parliament’s resolution No 1927-II from October 11, 2005 on the Current Situation in the Conflict Regions of Georgia and the Ongoing Peacekeeping Operations; including revision of the Sochi agreement from 24 June 1992 and to secure a replacement for the current peacekeeping operation in the former South Ossetian Autonomous District with an effective international peacekeeping operation.”
This article was the main source of disagreement between the parliamentary majority and the opposition during the debates.
The fourth article of Parliament’s October 11, 2005 resolution reads: “The Parliament of Georgia, in the event that the processes… are negatively assessed [by the government] and no progress is witnessed, shall demand the cessation of the peace-keeping operation on the territory of the former South Ossetian Autonomous District, as well as denunciation of the relevant international agreements and abolition of the existing structures, starting from 15 February 2006.” government officials reported to the Parliament about the peace process on February 13 and assessed negatively.
The opposition parliamentarians argued that the last sentence of the February 15 resolution, which instructs the government to revise the 1992 Sochi agreement, might be in contradiction with the October 11 resolution.
“This text of a new resolution downgrades the October 11 resolution, because the latter spoke about denunciation and the new one speaks of revision [of the 1992 agreement]. This means that [with this new resolution] we will prolong the legal presence of the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetian,” MP Ivliane Khaindrava of the Republican Party said during the debates.
MP Pikria Chikhradze also agreed that “a clearer formulation is needed.”
“It is clear that this resolution will be assessed by Russia as very tough because we are talking here about 'permanent attempts of annexation.' But I am also afraid that this resolution might be interpreted by Russia in this way: the Russian peacekeepers should stay in the region unless a proper international replacement is found, because the resolution also instructs the government to secure international replacement of the Russian peacekeepers. Russia will spare no efforts to hinder our attempts to find a replacement. So it is much better to write directly 'cessation' of the 1992 Sochi agreement rather than its revision,” MP Davit Berdzenishvili of the Republican Party said.
Government/Parliamentary Majority Position
Both the government and parliamentarians from the ruling National Movement Party, who initiated this new resolution, justified the proposed provisions of the document as an attempt to give negotiators “more space.”
Influential parliamentarian from the ruling party Givi Targamadze, who chairs the Committee for Defense and Security, presented the document to the Parliament.
He explained that the decision to include both provisions – one referring to the October 11 resolution and another giving new instruction to the government to revise the Sochi agreement – was a result of the fact that the authorities “will have much more space to maneuver”
“Despite many negative sides of the Sochi agreement, it contains some positive aspects for the Georgian side which should be fully utilized. I want to inform you that the process of cancelling this agreement might take longer that the process of revision. If we see that the processes are not developing in our favor and that this method fails, we will revise this position and give new instructions to the government. This is the reason we decided to put 'revision' in the text of resolution and not 'cancellation,'” MP Targamadze said.
State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava also attended the parliamentary debates. He also backed this position.
"A number of agreements and protocols signed in past years [in frames of quadripartite Joint Control Commission] are quite favorable for us. For example, the 1996 Moscow memorandum says that the peacekeepers should start transferring their duties to the local Georgian and Ossetian law enforcement agencies. This is a quadripartite agreement and this agreement is very important for us and is in our interest. So I want to say that this is an opportunity to change the military component with a policy component - this is very important and we should use this. If we cease all [the agreements] we will not be able to use those positive aspects which exist in these agreements,” State Minister Khaindrava said.
He also said that he plans to push the implementation of the 1996 Moscow memorandum at the JCC session, scheduled for February 20-21 in Vienna.
Parliamentarians from the ruling party also dismissed the opposition’s fears that the resolution might give the Russian peacekeepers the opportunity to stay legally in the conflict zone unless an international replacement in found.
“The document does not mean that they [peacekeepers] will remain there until a new replacement is found,” Giga Bokeria, an influential MP from the ruling party, said.
He said that by focusing on a replacement for the current peacekeeping operation with an international one, Tbilisi is trying to counteract Russia’s attempts to portray Georgia as a state willing to solve the South Ossetian conflict by force.
“This [replacement of Russian peacekeepers by international troops] is not easy, but everyone should understand that we want to use all the possibility means to solve this conflict peacefully,” MP Bokeria added.
During the parliamentary debates Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Latvia were named as potential contributors to the international peacekeeping operation. But Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze asked her colleagues not to elaborate on this issue, “as talks might be underway with other countries as well.”
Parliament’s resolutions, including the one passed on February 15, are binding for the government and a failure to implement them might become reason for a vote of confidence.
“This [resolution on the Russian peacekeepers] is an ordinary normative act and the government will be obligated to act in accordance with this resolution,” MP Bezhashvili from the ruling National Movement party told Civil Georgia on February 14.