Following the war outbreak of 2008 between Russia and Georgia, Geneva International Discussions (GID) was set up with the task of implementing Protocole D’Accord of August the 12th, 2008. This is the only negotiating format in the settle-down process of conflicts in Georgia. The agreement has been communicated by the Council of the European Union under French Presidency. Three mediating Co-chairs, the OSCE, the EU, and the UN, meet once every three months in two working groups. The first working group deals with security matters, while the second one concentrates on humanitarian issues.
Since 1992, the OSCE maintains mission in Georgia with an expanded mandate of facilitating “the creation of a broader political framework, in which a lasting political settlement in South Ossetia can be achieved on the basis of Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCS) principles and commitments”. Complementing the Joint Peacekeeping Forces run peacekeeping operation by monitoring, fact-finding, and investigating was also part of the OSCE Mission to Georgia. Although the EU had taken the lead on negotiation following the Russo-Georgia war, nevertheless, EU began sharing the chairmanship of the mediation with the OSCE and the UN.
The unique joint-mediation structure is still unable to settle the conflict down due to several complicated decision-making procedures in different institutions in different formats which even made the mediation process non-sense after all.
The mediation of three organizations is perceived as peacekeeping and peacemaking, the latter demonstrating a need for implementation or amendment of the agreed ceasefire as it is only partially implemented. Even though the OSCE held a mission in Georgia for a long period and made efforts in order to mediate the conflict, having no clear political mandate for mediation has hampered it. Above all, the Russian threat of withdrawing its consensus from the extension of the mandate for the OSCE mission in Georgia was realized in 2009 and it was never re-established despite OSCE efforts. However, the OSCE could only keep its presence in the region by initiating the protracted process of “phasing out” the Mission which, later, was blocked right after recognition of the de-facto states by one of its members, Russia. Currently, only technical support to the OSCE team and field projects are present.
- Lack of clear objectives of the GID and different views of participants as well as mediators
Russia’s recognition of de-facto states as independent states and deploying military bases in those areas made GID participants clear starting from the very first meeting that the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement is impossible. Georgia considers Russia as a party to the ethnic conflict as well as the war of 2008, and the major controlling power of the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Meanwhile, Russia claims to play the role of facilitator. Furthermore, which conflict is being mediated or supposed to be mediated is unclear as Georgia regards GID as a mediation process between Russia and Georgia, whereas Russia considers the GID as a process of mediation between Georgia and two de-facto states.
At the same time, the mediators share slightly different objectives as well. The European Union, both institutionally and legally, is trying to mediate the Georgian-Russian conflict. Controversially, the OSCE and the UN are more into engaging with Georgia’s relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
- Decision-Making Procedure of the OSCE: Consensus
The equality of all member states, regardless of their power, wealth, or geographical size, is a fundamental characteristic of the OSCE since its creation. Thus, all the decisions are taken by consensus, meaning that no objection shall be expressed by a member state in order the OSCE to adopt the decision. Even though the consensus decision-making sounds profoundly important for the best possible outcome, it has, however, made it increasingly difficult to reach an agreement among 57 member states from different parts of the world with different views and interests over past decades. Especially in the post-2008 period, several crucial decisions have been vetoed by Russia, such as the extension of the OSCE Mission in Georgia, the re-establishment of mandate in Georgia negotiation, the establishment of OSCE Support Team as well as many confidence-building initiatives on the ground.
- Russia’s behavior in South Caucasus: Use of de-facto states
Ethnic conflicts that emerged following dissolution of Soviet Union gave an opportunity to Russia to establish the influence on neighboring states. As Russia has always put itself in a position of the main and only successor of the Soviet Union, preventing the integration of former Soviet Republics to the West was the center ground of Russian foreign policy. To do so, Moscow used de-facto states in the Post-Soviet hemisphere through so-called mediating and peacekeeping initiatives which established the long-term impact of Kremlin on home states. Deployment of the Russian military in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia hindered Georgia’s possible integration to NATO as well as the EU. In general, Russia adopts certain instruments in order to have an absolute influence on de-facto states, such as military deployment and passportization. The latter allows Moscow to intervene militarily at the time of conflict with the purpose of protecting its citizens who are living beyond Russian borders.
Regardless of possible challenges that would emerge from the solutions given below, if the risks and possible protective actions by Russia are calculated precisely and cautiously, the West could be successful at the end of long-term foreign policy targeting the Russian intervention in its neighbors, namely Georgia.
- The OSCE to take a major role in the GID
The OSCE’s long-term mission to Georgia prior to the conflict makes it more experienced and advantageous in comparison with other co-chairs. By taking a major role in the GID, the OSCE would centralize the mediation focus. Targeting the common focus of co-chairs would allow the GID to narrow the talks and achieve at least certain objectives. Nevertheless, like other every single possible solution, the aforementioned one has a fundamental obstacle as well within the OSCE: Rotation of Chairmanship of the OSCE. The mandate gives an impetus to the state holding the Chairmanship to initiate new approaches, but the state that holds the Chairmanship might have different interests too, mainly if it is Russia itself.
- Elaboration of “consensus-minus-one” procedure
Withholding consensus allows Russia to use “soft-power” to block all the OSCE actions that are taken against the interest of Russia, particularly in Georgia. However, the activation of the so-called Prague mechanism of “consensus-minus-one” procedure by the Ministerial Council of the OSCE would break Russia’s opposition. Thus, the OSCE may proceed with substantial actions in order to build confidence and play a greater role in the GID.
On the contrary, modifying the system itself requires consensus. In this case, the question occurs: Would Russia allow the system change which will definitely tie its hands to block new initiatives that possibly be against Russian interest? The answer theoretically could be a “yes”, and yet, obviously and practically it is a bold “no”. Although many participant states, including Georgia, came up with the idea of a modification of the current decision-making system, Russia kept its opposition.
- Economic sanctions and military action by the West. The OSCE-facilitated negotiation with authorities and local people of both de-facto states and Georgia
Towards the end of the first decade of the century, it was Russian increasing economic power that has allowed it to act against international norms in Eastern Europe. Protective measures that were supposed to be taken by the EU, the US and the NATO have either been too late or absent in order to build security. Despite the urges of Georgia and Ukraine for the EU and NATO memberships, the West has chosen not to confront Russia directly although Russia has no hesitation to confront the West in the same way. Additionally, it is worth noting that the Georgian desire of being part of the aforementioned organizations has not changed. If no use of hard power of the West, then the economic sanctions would weaken the Russian economy which would certainly limit its military strength.
Meanwhile, the OSCE would take rather soft action to find a compromise between the political class and the people of each side. Historically, from the first part of the 20th century Abkhazians were under Georgian pressure facing nationalistic policy, sometimes unpleasant, so-called “Georgianization” of Abkhazia. The Soviet occupation brought peace to indigenous Abkhazians, nevertheless, shortly later Joseph Stalin, a Georgian, caused another black period for Abkhazians. The only survival way that multi-ethnic Abkhaz people have found was to be under Russian protection. Taking into consideration both historical and current circumstances as well as the will of people, settling the conflict down in a way that Georgia tries, seems impossible unless Georgia puts an end to the policy of unitarism.
Unlike most other conflicts around Russia, the cases of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are deep-rooted. It is not only Russia that intervened militarily, but also Georgia exercised humiliating policies against local people in order to change their national identity for a century-long. As a consequence, neither Georgia nor its international counterparts could facilitate the solution so far.
Having analyzed all possible solutions to the existing situation, I would recommend not to waste Western sources on Georgian conflicts. Obstacles to taking action within the OSCE limit the ability of the organization. Furthermore, even if it is solved, and yet further crucial troubles are present such as the will and right of local people. Instead, the West ought to focus on close relationship with Georgian political class to find a compromise to soften its unitarism policy within its administrative border. Mainly the compromise must be obtained and it should be guaranteed that indigenous minorities in Georgia will not be under pressure. Thus, Georgia may move on with NATO and EU memberships desire which would prevent future escalations.
South Caucasus is a crucial transportation point between the West and the East. Further escalations in the region would destabilize the world order. Therefore, the West and Russia should not be interested in continuing their rivalry, but instead, recognize and respect each-other’s strategic interests in the region.