By PHILIPPA RUNNER
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS – EU foreign ministers on Wednesday (13 August) agreed to send peacekeepers to help supervise the fragile Russia-Georgia ceasefire, putting off discussions on potential diplomatic sanctions against Russia until next month.
“The European Union must be prepared to commit itself, including on the ground,” the EU joint statement said, asking EU top diplomat Javier Solana to draft more detailed proposals for the ministers’ next meeting on 5 September.
“Many countries have said that they are ready to join in,” French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said, adding that any EU move would require a UN mandate. “We are encouraged by what we saw this morning, but we have to go through the United Nations.”
Ministers did not specify if the EU mission will compose EU-badge wearing soldiers, policemen or civilian monitors. It also remains unclear if it would be part of a wider force involving the UN and the OSCE, or when deployment might start.
“You call it peacekeeping troops, I don’t call it that…but controllers, monitors, European facilitators, I think the Russians would accept that,” Mr Kouchner told reporters.
The Georgian government has called for an EU presence in its rebel-held Abkhazia and South Ossetia provinces for at least three years, but the EU has always maintained that Russia and the Russian-backed separatists must agree first.
Finnish foreign minister Alexander Stubb voiced optimism that Russia will now back the new initiative. “I’m convinced at the end of the day we will find an international peacekeeping [force] in the region, with the EU at its heart,” he said, according to AFP.
Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt told Reuters he was less sure. “There are no signs of the Russians letting in anyone else…I don’t really see it happening – at the moment the Russians are firmly in control.”
The EU statement avoided any criticism of Moscow, despite widespread feeling among EU members that Russia’s massive assault on Georgia has overshadowed Georgia’s initial attack on the rebel town of Tskhinvali.
On Wednesday night, Russian soldiers continued to attack abandoned Georgian military facilities while Ossetian paramilitaries burned ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia and looted the Georgian town of Gori.
“I do not think we should get lost today in long discussions about responsibility or who caused the escalation of the last few days,” German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said.
Russia sanctions debate
A discussion on the potential suspension of talks on a new EU-Russia strategic pact or other diplomatic sanctions against Russia has been scheduled for the next EU foreign ministers meeting in September.
“We will speak very specifically about that,” France’s Mr Kouchner said.
“The European Union will want to consider how it proceeds with the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement,” UK foreign minister, David Miliband, said. “The sight of Russian tanks in Gori, Russian tanks in Senaki, a Russian blockade of Poti, the Georgian port are a chilling reminder of times that I think we had hoped had gone by.”
The Polish and Lithuanian ministers echoed the British position.
“Of course some consequences must appear of the aggression,” Lithuanian foreign minister, Petras Vaitiekunas, said. “There was clearly disproportionate force used by the Russians,” Poland’s Radoslaw Sikorski added.
In a separate event in Warsaw on Wednesday, the leaders of four former-communist EU states went further by calling for NATO to put Georgia firmly on the path to membership in order to “prevent similar acts of agression and occupation” in future.
The presidents of Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and the prime minister of Latvia also criticised the EU’s endorsement of the six-point Russia-Georgia peace plan, saying “the principal element – the respect of teritorial integrity of Georgia – is missing.”
The UK and eastern European states stand close to an increasingly hostile US line on excluding Russia from “the international system” and “international institutions” in punishment for the war.
‘This is not 1968’
“This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it,” US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said on Wednesday, before flying to Paris and Tbilisi this week.
Meanwhile, Russia is blaming the US for training and arming Georgian forces in a geopolitcal “project.”
“It is clear that Georgia wants this dispute to become something more than a short if bloody conflict in the region,” Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said.
“For decision-makers in the NATO countries of the West, it would be worth considering whether in future you want the men and women of your armed services to be answerable to [Georgian president] Mr Saakashvili’s declarations of war.”