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21st Jan 2019

Question marks remain over EU's Georgia mission

The European Union has given its green light to a civilian mission to Georgia. But a question mark remains over whether some 200 EU observers will dare to operate in the entire country, including its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, now under Russia's protection.

"The council [representing EU states] has decided to send an independent civilian observer mission to Georgia, under the European security and defence policy, which will be deployed by 1 October," reads the text adopted by 27 EU foreign ministers on Monday (15 September).

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  • The EU police mission will initially deploy in the buffer zones (Photo: wikipedia)

France (76 people), Germany (40), Poland (30), Italy (30), Sweden (27), the Czech republic (10) and Spain (10) have pledged the largest contingents, with 24 out of 27 EU states set to take part to some extent, newswires report.

The so-called EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) will have headquarters in Tbilisi as well as a number of field offices and will deploy for an initial period of 12 months on a budget of €31 million.

The formal go-ahead is expected to secure that Russian troops will "completely" withdraw within 10 days from the buffer zones attached to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to the lines held prior to the outbreak of hostilities.

"EU observers will be able to be present and they should be able to get this withdrawal going, just by the fact that they are there," French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said after the ministerial meeting.

The EU's mission will be working in Georgia together with monitors operational under the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nation. The OSCE itself is seeking to beef up its presence by additional 80 personnel.

However, the EU seems hesitant to irritate Russia by sending its observers to the entire Georgian territory, including its breakway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow considers the rebel regions as independent states and intends to keep 7,600 troops on their soil.

According to Slovak foreign minister Jan Kubis, the EU deployment will be done in several stages, in "areas where Russians are withdrawing from" to begin with.

"All further steps" will depend on political talks with Russia in Geneva next month, German deputy foreign minister Guenter Gloser said, Bloomberg reports.

Earlier, some EU states voiced concerns over a limited role of EU observers on the ground, saying it might wrongly imply that the union was protecting unrecognized borders.

According to one EU diplomat, the EU has decided to play a safe card based on the French EU presidency argument that all is still very fragile. "We will be moving a milimeter by milimeter," he said.

Mr Kouchner himself dismissed the worries by saying: "Let's not just see the obstacles in our path, otherwise we would never do anything...We are not recognizing anything in our text."

Apart from the EU mission, the foreign ministers appointed Pierre Morel, a French diplomat, to become the union's special representative for the crisis in Georgia.

The 27-nation bloc is also set to hold next month a donor's conference to help with the recontruction and recovery of the Georgian economy and resettle refugees. The European Commission meanwhile pledged to put aside €500 million for the period 2008-2010.

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