Saturday

7th Dec 2019

Russian troops must leave disputed territories, EUMM chief says

  • The EUMM team at work in Georgia (Photo: EUobserver)

Russian troops must withdraw from the areas inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia previously controlled by Georgian authorities, namely the Akhalgori district and the Kodori valley, Hansjorg Haber, the head of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) told EUobserver.

With the Russians having dismantled their checkpoints from Georgian territory two days ahead of the 10 October deadline, the EU's mission to Georgia does not end, Mr Haber said, adding that it has a one-year mandate which also includes "confidence building measures" and efforts to "normalize" the situation.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The 226 observers on the ground are now patrolling "the entire adjacent area and beyond", he said.

Asked if the monitors are allowed into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Mr Haber answered "not yet." "But we have always made it clear that we consider Abkhazia and South Ossetia as part of our mandate", he added.

"We want to go there, we told the Russians that we want to do so and we think we have a basis in the agreement from 12 August and 8 September – but so far we have not managed to get access there."

On the interaction with the Russians, Mr Haber said it was "business like," with the handover taking place under time pressure.

There were several talks between Mr Haber's deputy and the military commanders in South Ossetia and Abkhazia about the "details of the hand-over," and still there was "an element of surprise" with the withdrawal in South Ossetia, which was "largely unannounced."

"But overall the technical talks went well and we want them to continue," he said.

Concerning the Kodori and Akhalgori areas still occupied by Russian troops, Mr Haber explained that they were not included in the agreement to withdraw from the adjacent areas by 10 October, "but they fall under the provision that the Russian troops must return to the areas of their previous cantonment before the war."

"It is our standpoint that they must withdraw from there and we will tell them so," he stressed, while reminding that French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner also said that the situation of these two districts will be brought up at the upcoming Geneva talks on 15 October.

Meanwhile, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is insisting that the agreement reached between the Russian and French presidents did not include the withdrawal from Akhalgori.

"Akhalgori is within the South Ossetian boundaries; hence provisions of the plan do not cover it," Russian news agencies quoted Mr Lavrov as saying in Dortmund on Saturday (11 October), when he met with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

EU can help only by 'getting the Russians out'

The interaction between local authorities and EU monitors seemed to be working well on Sunday (12 October), when one Romanian observer team met Akhalgori representatives on a construction site some 20 km from the South Ossetian border, where 2,700 houses were being built by the Georgian government for the refugees from that area.

There are 22 EU member states who have contributed with observer teams for the Georgia mission, the 20 Romanians being based together with British, Swedish and Irish observers in the Bazaleti EUMM field office covering also the district of Akhalgori.

Cesar Chocheli, governor of Mtskheta-Mtianeti region which up until now included the town and district of Akhalgori, told the EU monitors that some 70% of the population left the area, with old and sick people left behind in a very unsafe and hostile environment.

"So far, Akhalgori was inhabited by 7,200 Georgians and 800 Ossetians who lived peacefully together. This is an artificial conflict," he said, adding that it is not local Ossetians who loot and destroy properties, but "criminals" from the South Ossetian cities of Tzkhinvali and Java.

While appreciating the talks with the EUMM team, Devi Ovashvili, a Georgian MP from Akhalgori district said that there were several contacts already established with different international organizations who all "come and talk to us and want to find out what we need."

"They propose different projects to us, but meanwhile we're finishing the houses and still didn't get any financial assistance from them," he said.

Filon Morar, head of the Romanian EUMM team stressed that these fact finding talks are useful in order to define the special needs of the affected population, especially in view of the upcoming international donor conference in Brussels on 22 October.

Yet to the Georgian MP from Akhalgori, "the only help the EU can give us is to make the Russians leave. And to let us join NATO, so that we can feel more safe."

Feature

Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion

The Arctic future conference kicked off with optimistic presentations by ministers and officials of the Russian government — but also a burst of scepticism from representatives of those actually living in Russia's Arctic and Far East regions.

Macron spars with US and Turkey over Nato

French president Emmanuel Macron clashed with US president Donald Trump and Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Nato, as the future of the alliance begins to fray following Ankara's invasion into north-east Syria in October.

Doubts over using EU 'peace fund' to supply arms to Africa

EU ambassadors met behind closed doors in Brussels to discuss the possibility of providing arms and ammunition to foreign armies in conflict areas like Mali. Not all were impressed by French-German support for a new EU 'peace fund'.

News in Brief

  1. Greece denies access to fair asylum process, report says
  2. Report: Self-regulation of social media 'not working'
  3. Turkey: Greek expulsion of Libyan envoy 'outrageous'
  4. Merkel coalition may survive, says new SPD co-leader
  5. Von der Leyen Ethiopia visit a 'political statement'
  6. Over 5,500 scientists ask EU to protect freshwater life
  7. Iran defies EU and UN on ballistic missiles
  8. Committee of the Regions: bigger budget for Green Deal

Magazine

EU diplomacy 2.0

MEPs on the foreign affairs committee ought to be like second-tier EU diplomats on the Western Balkans and Russia, according to its German chairman, but foreign policy splits could bedevil its work.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Russia makes big promises to Arctic peoples on expansion
  2. UK election plus EU summit in focus This WEEK
  3. Migrants paying to get detained in Libyan centres
  4. Searching for solidarity in EU asylum policy
  5. Will Michel lead on lobbying transparency at Council?
  6. Blood from stone: What did British PR firm do for Malta?
  7. EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology
  8. Timmermans warns on cost of inaction on climate

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us