The EU “forgets” about Georgia and makes up with Russia


On 2 December 2008, the EU resumed negotiations with Russia about a new partnership agreement [1].  Negotiations had been postponed on 1 September 2008 in the wake of Russia’s military action in Georgia in August.


The negotiations were resumed without a fanfare, in marked contrast to the hullabaloo that surrounded their postponement three months earlier.  Vladimir Chizhov, the Russian Ambassador to the EU, met the European Commission’s lead negotiator, Eneko Landaburu, for two hours in Brussels.  There was no press conference afterwards.


British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, who in August was the leading advocate of the EU taking a hard line against Russia, and of the postponement of the negotiations, was absolutely silent about their resumption.   Understandably so, since the EU has resumed negotiations, even though the condition laid down by the EU for their resumption – that Russia withdraw its troops to their positions prior to the outbreak of hostilities – hasn’t been fulfilled.


EU foreign ministers made the decision to resume negotiations on 10 November 2008 [2].  Prior to the meeting, Miliband issued a joint statement with Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carl Bildt, saying:


“… we are deeply concerned that Russia has not yet withdrawn to its pre 7 August positions as the EU has made clear that it must. We therefore urge Russia to fully implement both the 12 August and 8 September EU brokered peace agreements. We are also concerned that OSCE as well as EU monitors have still been prevented from entering South Ossetia.” [3]


Despite all this, Miliband didn’t oppose resumption on behalf of Britain.  Miliband the mouth has become Miliband the mouse.


The only state that held out against resumption was Lithuania, but the resumption didn’t require unanimity amongst member states (apparently because the negotiations were not suspended last September, merely postponed).


EU External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, made a lame attempt to counter the assumption that the EU had climbed down:


"This does not mean that we are giving a gift to Russia and this does not mean that we are changing our very firm position on the events of the summer.  Russia’s action over Georgia remains unacceptable.” [2]


In reality, the EU has now terminated its very mild sanction against Russia for this action.


Much more important, the EU has accepted the result of that action, which is that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are no longer part of Georgia in any meaningful sense, and won’t be for the foreseeable future.  The EU may not have recognized them as independent states, as Russia has done, but it has abandoned any challenge to Russia’s insistence, backed up with Russian military force, that they are not going to be governed from Tbilisi.


Negotiations postponed

An extraordinary meeting of the European Council on 1 September 2008, called to consider events in Georgia, took the decision to postpone the scheduled negotiations on a partnership agreement with Russia.  The Council conclusions stated:


Until [Russian] troops have withdrawn to the positions held prior to 7 August, meetings on the negotiation of the Partnership Agreement will be postponed.” [4]


Russia withdrew its troops from Georgia outside South Ossetia and Abkazia.  However, Russia stated plainly from the outset that it intended to keep thousands of troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for the foreseeable future.  On 8 September 2008, the Russian Defence Minister, Anatoly Serdyukov, said that 3,800 troops would be stationed in each area [5].  That is a great deal more than the number deployed prior to 7 August 2008, when it is generally believed there were about 1,000 troops under Russian command in South Ossetia and 2,500 in Abkhazia.


So, there isn’t the slightest doubt that Russian troops haven’t been withdrawn to their positions prior to 7 August 2008.  Nevertheless, the EU has resumed negotiations with Russia.


EU Monitoring Mission

As president of the EU, President Sarkozy brokered a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia on 12 August 2008.  The text of the ceasefire agreement (given in a press release from an EU foreign ministers meeting the next day [6] (p 6-7)) consists of a set of principles and is very imprecise.  On the withdrawal of Russian troops, the agreement says:


“Russian military forces will have to withdraw to the lines held prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Pending an international mechanism, Russian peace-keeping forces will implement additional security measures;” (point 5)


In the first sentence, Russia signed up to withdrawing its forces to the positions held prior to 7 August – eventually.  The second sentence allowed Russia to keep troops inside Georgia proper on the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia until an international monitoring mechanism was in place.


On 8 September 2008, President Sarkozy went back to Moscow, and then to Tbilisi, to make arrangements for the implementation of the agreement of 12 August (see [7] for the text of what was agreed).  Part of these arrangements was:


the deployment of additional observers in the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia in sufficient numbers to replace the Russian peacekeeping [sic] forces by 1 October 2008, including at least 200 European Union observers.”


The EU observers, aka the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM Georgia), were deployed as arranged by 1 October 2008 and Russian troops withdrew into South Ossetia and Abkhazia, more or less.


(It was also agreed that UN and OSCE international monitors would continue to be deployed within Abkhazia and South Ossetia respectively, as they were prior to the outbreak of hostilities.  Russia insisted on monitors in Georgia proper, and insisted that they came from the EU, because, since Georgia is keen to join the EU, the presence of EU monitors is likely to restrain it from repeating its aggression of 7 August.)


The agreement with Russia provided for the deployment of EU observers “in the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia”, but not within these areas – which implied that the EU accepted that these areas were no longer really part of Georgia.  However, in order to sell the agreement In Tbilisi, Sarkozy gave the false impression that Russia had agreed to their deployment inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, saying as he stood alongside Georgian President Saakashvili:


“The spirit of the text is that they (the EU observers) will have a mandate to enter (Abkhazia and South Ossetia), to observe, to report.” [8]


This produced a fierce response from Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying:


“This is an absolutely immoral attempt to explain dishonestly to Mr Saakashvili what obligations were taken on by the European Union and what obligations by Russia.  Additional international observers will be deployed precisely around South Ossetia and Abkhazia and not inside these republics.” [8]


Nevertheless, the EU legislation specifying the mandate for EUMM Georgia (Council Joint Action 2008/736/CFSP of 15 September 2008 [9]) describes its area of operation as Georgia without mentioning South Ossetia and Abkhazia, so it meant to include them.  A statement from the head of the mission, Hansjörg Haber, on 4 November 2008 underlined this, saying:


“EUMM has a Georgia-wide mandate, thus including Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We are here to observe compliance with the peace agreements of 12 August and 8 September by all sides, contribute to stabilisation and normalisation of the situation on the ground and help confidence-building.


“However, EUMM is a civilian and unarmed mission. We cannot and we do not want to force our way. We can only go where there is cooperation. It is the task of our monitors to knock on the doors and request access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Therefore, our patrols approach the Russian, Abkhaz and South Ossetian checkpoints along the administrative boundary line. We approach the staff of the checkpoints in a friendly manner, try to establish contacts and explain our mandate. We will continue this confidence-building work.” [10]


Up to now, in line with the arrangements made with Sarkozy in Moscow on 12 September 2008, Russia has refused to allow EU observers into South Ossetia and Abkhazia (see interview with Hansjörg Haber on 27 March 2009 [11])


By having EU monitors seek access South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the EU is expressing its formal position that Georgia includes South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  By refusing to make an issue of Russia’s refusal to grant them access, the EU is accepting the reality that they are now separate entities under Russian protection.



2 December 2008 was a very good day for Russia.  Not only did the EU resume negotiations with it on a partnership agreement, but, a few hours later in another part of Brussels, NATO foreign ministers decided to resume contact with Russia within the NATO-Russia Council.  Miliband the mouth was party to this decision as well, as was US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice.


Contact with Russia within the NATO-Russia Council had been broken off in August.  A special NATO foreign ministers meeting on 19 August 2008 concluded:


 “In 2002, we established the NATO-Russia Council, a framework for discussions with Russia, including on issues that divide the Alliance and Russia.  We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual.” [12]


But on 2 December 2008, NATO reversed gear.  True, in the communiqué at the end of the meeting [13], NATO condemned Russia for its “disproportionate military actions during the conflict with Georgia in August” and for its “subsequent recognition of the South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions of Georgia, which we condemn and call upon Russia to reverse”.  In addition, NATO demanded that Russia “implement fully the commitments agreed with Georgia, as mediated by the EU on 12 August and 8 September 2008” and allow “full access by international monitors”.  Nevertheless, the foreign ministers


“mandated the Secretary General [of NATO] to re-engage with Russia at the political level; agreed to informal discussions in the NRC [NATO-Russia Council]; and requested the Secretary General to report back to us prior to any decision to engage Russia formally in the NRC.”


Neither Rice nor Miliband opposed this resumption of relations with Russia.


Neither Rice nor Miliband pressed for Membership Action Plans (MAPs) for Georgia and the Ukraine either.


On 3 April 2008, at a heads of state meeting in Bucharest, NATO had decided in principle to allow Ukraine and Georgia to become full members.  But, Germany, France and other states successfully resisted intense pressure from the US (with the support of the UK) to draw up MAPs for Ukraine and Georgia right away. 


The foreign ministers’ communiqué on 2 December 2008 reaffirmed “all elements of the decisions regarding Ukraine and Georgia taken by our Heads of State and Government in Bucharest”.  But, the US and the UK didn’t press for MAPs this time, presumably because they knew that they weren’t going to succeed.  It looks as if NATO’s eastward march is an end.


President Sarkozy’s role

When President Sarkozy came to power, he sounded as if he was going to be much more pro-American than his predecessors.  But, in his dealings with Russia in the aftermath of the hostilities in Georgia, he sidelined the US and placed the EU centre stage.  It is impossible to believe that this would have happened had any state other than France happened to hold the EU presidency at the time.  It is also impossible to believe that all other EU states were happy with Sarkozy’s sidelining of the US – for example, Britain and the former Soviet bloc states, which have welcomed the exercise of US power in eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War.


What’s the evidence for this?  First, Sarkozy’s first trip to Moscow on 12 August 2008 to broker a ceasefire was opposed by the US.  He said so, when he addressed the European Parliament as President of the European Council on 21 October 2008 [14].  Without directly naming the US (or the UK), he also said that “some were saying” that dialogue was useless and there had to be a military response (which he described as “madness”).


Here’s the passage on Georgia from his speech:


We [the French presidency] wanted this Europe first of all to be united – which wasn’t that simple -, to think independently – because the world needs Europe to think independently – and be proactive. If Europe has things to say, it must not just say them, it must do them. First of all we had the war, with the Russians’ wholly disproportionate reaction in the Georgian conflict. I use the words advisedly. I say ‘disproportionate’ because it is disproportionate to intervene as the Russians intervened in Georgia. But I use the word ‘reaction’ because while the reaction was disproportionate, there had been a wholly inappropriate action before. Europe must be fair and not hesitate to break out of ideological mindsets to promote a message of peace.


On 8 August, the crisis erupted. On 12 August Bernard Kouchner and I were in Moscow to obtain the ceasefire. I’m not saying what was done was perfect, I’m simply saying that in four days Europe got a ceasefire. And at the beginning of September, Europe got the commitment to a withdrawal to the pre-8 August positions. In two months, Europe obtained the end of a war and withdrawal of the occupation troops. There were several possibilities. Some were saying – and they had reasons for doing so – that dialogue was useless and that the response to the military action had to be military: madness! Europe has seen the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. Europe must not be an accessory to a new cold war, entered solely because people lost their cool.

“This was a problem we overcame with our American allies, who thought that the visit to Moscow wasn’t timely. Despite everything, we acted hand in hand with our American allies. They had a position which wasn’t the same as ours. We tried to build collaboration rather than opposition. And frankly, given the state of the world today, I don’t think it needs a crisis between Europe and Russia. That would be irresponsible. We can therefore defend our ideas on respect for sovereignty, on respect for Georgia’s integrity, on human rights and on our differences with those who govern Russia. But it would have been irresponsible to create the conditions for a clash we absolutely didn’t need. The discussions have begun in Geneva on the future status of the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. I’m told they’ve got off to a difficult start. Who could imagine it being any other way? But what’s important is that they are starting. I have to say, moreover, that President Medvedev has honoured the commitments he made before the Commission and European Council presidencies when we went to Moscow at the beginning of September.


Europe has brought peace. Europe obtained the withdrawal of an occupation army and Europe wanted the international discussions. It seems to me that it’s been a long time since Europe has played such a role in a conflict of this kind. I can of course see all the ambiguities, all the inadequacies, all the compromises it’s been necessary to make, but in all conscience I think we have obtained the maximum of what was possible, and, above all, President [of the Parliament] Pöttering, if Europe hadn’t made the voice of dialogue and reason heard, who would have made it heard? When Bernard Kouchner and I left on 12 August for Moscow and Tbilisi, all the world media were well aware that the Russians were 40 km from Tbilisi and the goal was to topple Mr Saakashvili’s regime. That was the reality. We were very close to disaster but thanks to Europe, a determined Europe, there was no disaster, even though, President Pöttering, there will, of course, be a long way to go before tensions calm down in that part of the world.”


Needless to say, Sarkozy was not in the business of minimising his achievements as the holder of the EU presidency, nor of the degree to which Russia shifted ground due to his intervention on behalf of the EU.  In reality, Russia got what it wanted – South Ossetia and Abkhazia as separate entities under Russian military protection and unlikely to be ruled from Tbilisi ever again.


David Morrison

5 April 2009








[6] _August_20008.pdf