Oct 03, 2008

Abkhazia: Russia Retains Its Vote in PACE

Active ImagePACE can reverse Russian recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Below is an article published by the Kommersant :

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) intends to demand that Russia reverse its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and allow EU and OSCE observers access there. Those conditions are contained in a draft PACE resolution that should be approved by the assembly today [2 October 2008]. Yesterday [1 October 2008], it did not deprive the Russian delegation of its voting rights, but noted that it would return to the question in the next session.

The PACE is holding its last session devoted to the war between Russia and Georgia today [2 October 2008]. A draft final resolution, written by reporters for Russia and Georgia Luc Van den Brande and Matyas Eorsi will be adopted at it. The PACE lays the blame for the start of the war on Georgia, noting that the attack on Tskhinvali by Georgian forces on August 7 [2008] led to full-scale military activities. Georgia is accused of using heavy weaponry and cassette bombs and disproportionate military force, which, the reporters recall, even on its own territory, is a violation of international law.

That passage is a clear concession to the Russian delegation, which on Tuesday [30 September 2008] was still accusing the PACE of being unwilling to admit that Georgia started the war. The resolution goes on to say that the main victims and destruction are linked with the Russians – the greater number of accusations are made against them. In the beginning of the text, it is claimed that Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone did not fulfill the function assigned to them. Moreover, the authors state, the format of the peacekeeping mission should have been changed long ago but protests from the Russians and South Ossetians prevented that from happening.

The resolution describes the actions of the Russian military in harsh terms. The Russian counterstrike was accompanies by wide-scale military action in central and western Georgia, which is inconsistent with the principle of international humanitarian law, the van den Brande and Eorsi wrote. The authors of the resolution accuse Russia of violating The Hague convention of 1907 by not preventing looting and ethnic cleansing on a territory controlled by its forces. It is also noted that most of the crimes of that type were committed after the signing of a ceasefire agreement on August 12 [2008]. Finally, the resolution claims that the number of dead (300 on the Russian side and 364 on the Georgian) is significantly lower than it was portrayed as at first, especially by Russia.

In conclusion, the document states that the minimum condition for a peace settlement is the placement of EU and OSCE observers in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and Russia’s annulment of its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition, PACE is demanding that NATO disclose information on military buildup connected to the war. The Council of Europe itself plans to create a special field mission on human rights to work permanently in the conflict zone.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, sold Kommersant that the text of the resolution is completely unacceptable and the Russian delegation will vote against it. Nonetheless, he predicted that it would pass today [2 October 2008]. According to Kosachev, the Russian delegation has prepared 27 amendments to the text, but they were rejected by as PACE committee yesterday [1 October 2008].

The first part of yesterday’s session [1 October 2008] was devoted to Northern Cyprus, the self-declared republic recognized only by Turkey. President of Cyprus Dimitris Christofias and head of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Mehmet Ali Talat were invited to the debates in Strasbourg. When Kommersant asked assembly chairman Lluis Maria de Puig if that was a precedent and if the leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia could be invited to the PACE, he replied negatively, saying that the Cypriote president had been invited in order to speed up the settlement process on the island and Cypriote authorities were not opposed to Talat’s appearance there.

Yesterday’s session [1 October 2008] ended with a vote on depriving the Russian delegation of its voting rights. Andreas Gross of Switzerland prepared a report on that subject recommending that the assembly approve the Russian delegation’s vote. Gross acknowledged that there was seeming cause to deprive both Russia and Georgia of their voting rights, but he questioned the assembly’s desire to punish Russia for the sake of showing its decisiveness and suggested that the move would only deprive the assembly of chances for dialog. He recommended that the situation be studied further.

British Labour Party member Dennis MacShane, a minister of state in the Tony Blair government, disagreed with that approach. He said that the PACE has no right to approve the dismemberment of an independent state, calling at an Anschluss policy unanimously supported by the Russian State Duma and Federation Council. He showed a blank Russian passport found by Georgian troops in South Ossetia.

In his conclusion, Gross noted that members of the assembly can call the Russian delegation’s voting rights into question at any time, such as at the next session of the assembly, if Russia does not meet the PACE’s demands of if progress is too slow or slight. That observation was even amended to the final resolution.

Obviously, if the resolution demanding that Russia annul its recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is passed, chances of the Russian delegation being deprived of its voting rights at the next session grow substantially. German delegate Holger Haibach stated openly that, if Russia does not allow internal observers into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, its rights should be reconsidered.

Gross stated at the last session of the assembly that Georgia may lose its vote as well. He said then that both sides were behaving the same and both were behaving like authoritarian regimes, repressing information emerging from the other side and trying to form a one-sided picture of the events.

Only 20 PACE delegates voted to deprive Russia of its voting rights; 114 voted against doing so at the moment, and 10 abstained. The Russian delegation did not participate in the vote. “We didn’t want the vote to take place at all,” Kosachev told Kommersant. “And its result was expected. It shows that we control the situation.”

The next PACE session, at which the Russian vote may be called into question again, is planned for January [2009]. Late in the evening yesterday [1 October 2008], however, head of the French delegation Jean-Claude Mignon called for an unscheduled session before next year [2009] if Russia does not adhere to the Medvedev-Sarkozy peace plan.