- ‘We are stuck, not progressing to conflict resolution’;
- ‘Russia has lost great part of influence over Georgia’;
- ‘It doesn’t know how to regain this influence’;
- ‘Russian policy towards Georgia not creative’;
- ‘Georgia’s policy towards Russia quite one-sided;
- ‘Georgia wants to win diplomatic battles or wants to promote reintegration?’
Moscow, whose policy towards Tbilisi is “not imaginative”, has lost great part of its influence over Georgia and is “at a loss how to re-establish” it, while Tbilisi’s policy towards Moscow lacks multi-dimensional approach and is “quite one-sided,” Hansjörg Haber, head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM), said.
Haber, who offered his straightforward personal assessment on current state of affairs in respect of Russian-Georgian conflict and breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, said at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Rose-Roth Seminar in Tbilisi on March 23, that the conflict was “not progressing” towards its resolution.
The German diplomat, who is expected to leave his post in Georgia soon, was invited to speak on a panel with Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Eka Tkeshelashvili and Deputy Secretary of National Security Council Batu Kutelia to discuss Georgia-Russia conflict.
Speaking about the conflict with Russia “is inviting me to trespass beyond the confines of my mandate, which I gladly do on the understanding that these are my private opinions based on experience gained during the past two and half years,” he told the audience at the conference.
Haber has been leading EUMM since its deployment in Georgia after the August war in October, 2008.
“Clearly for historical, political, economic and not least sentimental and touristic reasons Georgia is still the big prize for Russia in the Transcaucasus,” Haber said after briefly reviewing troubled history of Georgian-Russian relations starting from 1783 Georgievsk Treaty under which eastern Georgia became the Russian empire’s protectorate. He said that Georgia was bigger prize for Russia in this region, than Armenia and Azerbaijan.
He said that his Georgian interlocutors were often telling him that ‘Russians love Georgia, but they do not love the Georgian statehood.’
That’s “probably fair enough,” the European diplomat said.
'Russia lost Leverage'
Haber recalled that he first had to deal with Georgia as a diplomat while working for the German Foreign Ministry in charge of UN missions in 1996, when Germany had a significant presence in UN Monitoring Mission in Georgia – now closed down mission which was monitoring ceasefire in Abkhazia. He said that diplomatic cables coming from Tbilisi were “the most complicated.” As a rule, he continued, his colleagues were telling him that Russia was just using Abkhazia and South Ossetia to regain Georgia back to its own orbit.
“Indeed Russia used the two de facto entities to gain leverage over Georgia. If that was so then the recognition of the two entities [by Russia] has changed the picture and we have number of indications that this was a decision that was hotly contested in the Russian foreign policy establishment,” Haber said.
He said that by doing so Russia had lost the leverage of using threat of recognition of these two regions as a tool to “blackmail Georgia to return into the fold of [Russia’s] near abroad.”
“I think Russia has lost great part of its influence over Georgia,” he added.
He said that in October, 2008 when the EU Monitoring Mission was deployed in Georgia officials in Tbilisi were telling him that Russia had three goals: to topple President Saakashvili; to undermine Georgia’s role as an energy transit route and to forever bar Georgia from becoming NATO member.
“This latter argument [about NATO membership] – it is up to you to decide where Georgia is; as far as toppling of the President and the threat for the transport of hydrocarbons through the South Caucasus energy corridor – these fears have abated a lot over the past two and a half years,” Haber said.
'Russians don’t Know How to Regain Influence over Georgia'
Haber said that “the game Russians are playing” in the Geneva talks involved trying to move from its role as a party into the conflict to the role of peace-manager, claiming that it was not at all party into the conflict, which, the European diplomat said, “is clearly absurd”.
He said Russia also started again to insist on non-use of force agreement. Russia had been insisting on, what it called, legally binding non-use of force agreement between Tbilisi and Sokhumi and Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, which Georgia was against of. Last year Russia proposed unilateral non-use of force declarations to be made separately by Tbilisi, Sokhumi and Tskhinvali. But after President Saakashvili made such unilateral non-use of force pledge at the European Parliament on November 23, Moscow started to again insist on a written agreement between the sides, but at the same time refusing to make itself part of such agreement.
“What are the Russians doing? Now in Geneva [discussions], for example, they have renewed their demand for written guarantees of Georgia of the non-use of force in additional to guarantee that President Saakashvili gave last November in the European Parliament and they are linking that with a demand for a Russian role as a co-guarantor of the non-use of force, whereas they do not want to perceive themselves as party to the conflict – this is clearly absurd, but it indicates for me that the Russians are at a loss how to re-establish their influence over Georgia,” Haber said.
“They also entertain contacts with the Georgian opposition, which is fair enough and basically legitimate; every country does this kind of thing,” he added.
“So my feeling, also from talking to Russians in the framework of the Geneva negotiations and in Moscow, is that Russians don’t really know at this stage how to regain influence over Georgia and they try to lean forward by demanding this guarantor role, but they know very well that this is not going to come true.”
“So clearly the Russian policy towards Georgia is not very imaginative at this stage,” Haber said.
‘Georgia’s One-Sided Policy’
He said that on the other hand Georgia’s policy towards Russia “is also not very multi-dimensional and it is quite one-sided.”
“Basically it consists of using international leverage to demonstrate the continued character of the principle of territorial integrity, which of course we all support and therefore additional confirmations of the principle of territorial integrity tend to demonstrate the principle of diminishing returns,” Haber said.
He also said that Georgia was not engaging directly with Russia and instead was doing it through its American and European partners, “using their leverage over Russia.”
Haber warned that some of Georgia’s demands would hardly promote Tbilisi’s objective of reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
He cited an example of Georgia’s demand in respect of Russia’s WTO bid, wherein Tbilisi in exchange of its consent for Russia’s WTO entry wants to have some sort of control over the trade at the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sections of the Georgian-Russian border.
“Legally this is certainly justified demand,” Haber said, but added that even if this demand would materialize “what is going to change in terms of ultimate Georgian objective of reintegration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia?”
“I do not see any contribution towards this national goal”.
“So there is really question of whether Georgia wants to win diplomatic battles to underscore again the principle of territorial integrity or whether it wants to promote reintegration,” he added.
After Haber’s remarks Georgian lawmaker from the ruling party, Giorgi Kandelaki, who is deputy chair of parliamentary committee for foreign affairs, responded that by pushing the issue of border-crossing control and transparency Tbilisi was trying to add more “political dynamic” to the issue, which would contribute to the reintegration objective.
‘We are Stuck’
In his remarks Haber also said that it would be a good idea to think about building relations “with de factor regimes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as if Russians were not there and let’s build relationship with Russia as if the Abkhazians and South Ossetians were not there.”
“Because otherwise you are giving the Russians evermore of leverage, which you are actually want to avoid,” he said.
The European diplomat also mentioned in his remarks differences and conflicts which sometimes emerge in Russia’s relations with Sokhumi, as well as with Tskhinvali.
In this context he said that the Georgian authorities’ treatment of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali as mere Russian puppets was further pushing the two regions “deeper into Russia” and such approach was not advancing the cause of reintegration.
He also spoke of “notable differences” between Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“South Ossetian diplomacy,” he said, “is angry; it’s passionate; it’s exaggerating, but they are still closer to Georgia.”
“Abkhazia is different – they are more moderate, but… they are completely cold with respect to Georgia,” Haber said.
He also said that both Abkhazia and South Ossetia “need strong gestures from Georgia to consider alternatives to the present relationship with Russia.”
He said Tbilisi had done “a lot of work” in this regard and added that Georgia’s State Strategy on Occupied Territories was the first step and its Action Plan for Engagement “had the potential to develop into a really effective program.”
“At the moment, I and many other observers have the feeling that we are stuck with this conflict and we are not progressing towards its resolution, which, from our point of view, is reintegration [of Abkhazia and South Ossetia] or at least very close rapprochement of the two entities back to Georgia, which is what we all support,” Haber said.