Despite a strong-worded resolution on the peacekeeping forces stationed in the South Ossetian conflict zone passed by the Georgian Parliament on February 15, developments surrounding this breakaway region are most likely heading towards the negotiating format rather than a further aggravation of the situation on the ground, at least for time being.
On the one hand, the resolution gives the Georgian government space to intensify diplomatic efforts aiming at internationalization of the current Russian-led peacekeeping operation without specifying timeframes or deadlines; on the other hand, the resolution also leaves room for a demand to immediately cease the current peacekeeping operation.
Local observers say that the internationalization of the peacekeeping operation, even with the participation of the Russian side (Tbilisi is not against Russia’s presence in a peacekeeping operation under an international mandate), is a long-term project and an extremely tough task to implement. Some analysts also argue that Tbilisi will refrain from demanding an immediate withdrawal of the Russian troops from South Ossetia, at least in the near future, against the background of continued warnings voiced by western partners.
Following U.S. calls for caution over the peacekeepers, the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht also warned the Georgian government on February 16 “to adopt a measured response” to the Georgian Parliament’s February 15 resolution.
Currently, preparations are underway for upcoming talks in Vienna. Negotiators from Georgia, Russia, breakaway South Ossetia and Russia’s North Ossetia are expected to gather in the Austrian capital on February 20-21 in frames of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) – the only negotiating body over South Ossetian.
State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava, who represents the Georgian side in the JCC, briefly outlined on February 15 the position which Tbilisi will try to push during the Vienna talks, which will be held under the initiative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office.
Speaking with parliamentarians on February 15, Khaindrava said that Georgia should fully utilize those agreements reached in frames of the JCC in previous years which are in line with the Tbilisi’s interests.
"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. This is an opportunity to change the military component with a police component - this is very important and we should use this,” State Minister Khaindrava said and added that he plans to push this issue during the talks in Vienna.
State Minister Khaindrava left for Moscow on February 16 to negotiate with officials from the Russian Foreign Ministry about the peace process in South Ossetia, as well as about the upcoming talks in Vienna.
The government was also instructed by the February 15 resolution to intensify work with international organizations and partner states aimed at full implementing the peace plan unanimously endorsed by the Foreign Ministers (including by the Russian side) of the OSCE member states at Ljubljana Ministerial Council in December, 2005.
But further exchanges of diplomatic barbs between Tbilisi and Moscow are anticipated over this issue.
In a statement issued on February 15 the Russian Foreign Ministry, which condemned the Georgian Parliament’s February 15 resolution, said that the so called “OSCE-approved peace plan” does not exist at all. Instead, Moscow proposed once again to follow South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity’s proposal and develop a new, joint Ossetian-Georgian plan of action aimed at a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The February 20-21 talks in Vienna are expected to become an initial indicator of further developments over South Ossetia.