Georgia has agreed to create restricted-armament zones adjacent to breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to the memorandum signed between the Ministry of Defense (MoD) and EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) on January 26.
EUMM unveiled some details of the memorandum at a press briefing on January 28.
The Georgian MoD has agreed, according to the memorandum, not to place more than a battalion of troops within 15 kilometers of the Abkhaz administrative border and not to deploy more than a battalion of troops in the areas adjacent to breakaway South Ossetia. In case of South Ossetia the zone of restriction in some sections is roughly 15 kilometers, mainly in the southern part, and in some sections less than 15 kilometers.
Within these areas MoD has also agreed not to deploy weapon systems with a caliber of 120mm or more, according to the memorandum.
MoD committed not to deploy more than five weapon systems or armored vehicles with weapons with calibers between 60mm and 119mm.
The restrictions mean that it will not be possible to deploy the Georgian army’s artillery in those areas, as the majority of the artillery employed by the Georgian MoD is more than 120mm in caliber, according to EUMM. This also applies main battle tanks, which are normally equipped with 120mm guns, and multiple launch rocket systems.
Georgia will only be able to deploy only up to five of these systems in these areas, including medium mortars; anti-tank weapons and armored fighting vehicles and armored personnel vehicles.
“This gives the Georgian armed forces a certain amount of defensive capabilities,” Clive Trott, EUMM deputy head of operations, said. “But these numbers are not capable to carry out offensive operations.”
MoD will also have to inform EU mission in advance about all the planned military exercises, involving troops greater than the battalion size.
EU monitors will be granted access to all the military establishments within Georgia, providing in return that EU mission would give MoD a 24-hours notice.
Regular meetings between liaison officers from the Georgian MoD and EU mission will be held, according to the memorandum.
German diplomat, Hansjörg Haber, who is the head of EUMM, said that initially when the mission started negotiations with the Georgian side on the arrangement in October, EUMM “aimed at more generous provisions.”
“But we nevertheless are satisfied what we’ve got,” he added.
He also said that it took some time before the Georgian side gave its consent as it was weighing military and diplomatic consequences and options for such arrangement.
“I think they [the Georgian authorities] had to reconcile military appraisal of the worth of the document with the diplomatic one,” he said.
“For example, one of the tasks of the Ministry of Defense is clearly to defend Tbilisi against any possible attack. So they had to evaluate how this agreement is effecting options and on the other side there are number of diplomatic advantages to be gained for Georgia from this arrangement.”
EUMM has welcomed the Georgia’s move as “a brave and unilateral move” that should lead to more security.
Haber said that Russia should also follow the Georgia’s suit.
“We will use all the channels that we have to very seriously invite Russians to consider options to reciprocate and introduce more transparency about its troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and also to step back from the immediate vicinity of the administrative border lines, just as the Georgians are doing it under this arrangement,” the diplomat said.
He, however, also noted that the mission had “little contacts” with the Russian forces on the ground, so the mission was mainly using diplomatic channel and mostly through Brussels.
‘High Standards of Proof’
Haber told journalists that creation of mechanisms for prevention and investigation of incidents occurring across the administrative borders was important.
He said that the matter, which was discussed during the Geneva talks in December and is expected to be further negotiated at the next round in February, became “politicized” by the South Ossetian and Abkhaz sides. He said that EU’s approach was to set up joint mechanisms for cooperation between the law enforcement officers without attracting any elements of status; while Sokhumi and Tskhinvali want to gain some kind of recognition out of the law enforcement cooperation mechanisms, Haber added.
He also said that the mission was very cautious while investigating cross-border incidents.
“The problem is that in very many cases we can not put down the blame for any particular incident to one of the sides. This is because we apply very high standards of proof,” he said.
In this regard he brought up an example of the January 16 shooting incident at the South Ossetian administrative border in which a Georgian policeman was killed. The diplomat said that the shot was fired “probably from relatively close range, from territory outside South Ossetia.”
“Although there are certain indications, there is no absolutely unambiguous evidence that would link the authorship of this incident to any one side,” Haber added.