MEDVEDEV-SARKOZYS SIX POINTS: THE DIPLOMATIC ASPECT OF THE SOUTH OSSETIAN SETTLEMENT

Mikhail VOLKHONSKIY


Makhail Volkhonskiy, Ph.D. (Hist.), senior research associate, Center of Caucasian Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations (Moscow, Russian Federation)


The August 2008 events in South Ossetia marked an important stage in the recent history of the Southern Caucasus: they changed the course of the regions sociopolitical life and have become the axis of the very complicated relations among the biggest international players. The conflict settlement was achieved through a fairly long diplomatic struggle, which faithfully reflected the relations among Russia, the United States, and the European Union.

Below I offer an analysis of the diplomatic aspect of the South Ossetian settlement.

Mikhail Saakashvilis Stratagem

The tension between Tskhinval and Tbilisi, which cropped up early in 2008, had developed, by August, into a series of armed provocations and clashes. In a diplomatic effort to defuse the situation Russia relied, very much as before, on the Joint Control Commission for the settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict (JCC); Tbilisi, which refused to back off from its South Ossetian position, made these efforts futile.

Back in March 2008, Georgia, dissatisfied with the balance of votes in the JCC (one Georgian against three from the South Ossetian lobbyists) left the structure. This was obviously done to elbow Moscow out of the regional decision-making. This plan required a much worsened situation; Russias image as an intermediary should have been discredited. Between March and August 2008, Georgia consistently destabilized the situation in South Ossetia.

Late on 7 August, 2008, Americas interference somewhat stabilized the situation; the Georgian side announced a unilateral ceasefire. Russian diplomats convinced the sides to meet for talks on 8 August outside the JCC on the condition that the Commission would remain the only negotiation format.

Tbilisi, on the other hand, insisted that the negotiation format should be revised. Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia G. Vashadze was expected in Moscow with an alternative crisis settlement. It looked as if the talks could be restarted.

At about 01:00 a.m. on 8 August, Tbilisi moved forward with a surprising statement that it had to abandon the ceasefire because of the shelling of Georgian villages from Ossetia. Simultaneously, Georgia responded with fire from its side of the border.

In September 2008, Dana Rohrabacher, deputy chairman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight, said at the Congress hearings that, according to intelligence, Georgia had opened hostilities in South Ossetia.

Moscow, while fully aware of Tbilisis military preparations, was still caught unawares. Having agreed on talks with South Ossetia with Russias brokerage, Georgia detracted the attention of Russias leaders and its diplomatic service. Tbilisi obviously expected that the international community, whose attention was riveted on the Beijing Olympic Games, would be very slow to respond. The Georgian leaders sided with the West, which wrongly dismissed Russias military machine as weak and inefficient and its leaders as


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