The chairman of the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Finnish Foreign Alexander Stubb met with Russian Foreign Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations on September 25. He spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Nikola Krastev about that meeting and the chances of resolving the conflict over South Ossetia.
The OSCE has agreed to send 100 military monitors to South Ossetia, however only 20 have so far been deployed and talks with Russia on the remaining monitors have been inconclusive.
RFE/RL: Do you have a sense that Moscow is feeling the impatience of Europe for the conflict to be resolved soon?
Alexander Stubb: Let's be frank, Russia has been in the driving seat of this conflict from the beginning in many ways. And now we're reaching a stage in the conflict, I think, in the postmanagement of the conflict, where I think we need to mend some of the wounds that may have emerged throughout the process. To me it seems like the testosterone is flowing at a lower level than it was a few weeks ago. I think the war words have been more moderate than what it was a few weeks back. And that also indicates certain positive development.
To me at least it indicates, at least I am quite hopeful that we will get something out of it. And I'd like to stress the role of the French presidency [of the EU] first in "Sarkozy 1," the deal that was brokered [by French President Nicolas Sarkozy] on August 12. And then in "Sarkozy 2," because "Sarkozy 2" which was the deal between [Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev, Sarkozy, and [Georgian President Mikheil] Saakashvili on the withdrawal of the troops, gave us some clear dates.
We are moving in the right direction. We have three options here: one is total Russian isolation; I don't think anyone wants that. The other one is to continue business as usual; I don't think that's realistic. We'll have to be somewhere in between -- time to start mending wounds, time to start working together again.
Russia's Role In OSCE
RFE/RL: Did you get any hints that there may be circumstances under which Russia would consider leaving the OSCE from the recent talks you had with Lavrov?
Stubb: None whatsoever. As a matter of fact, we discussed a future bilateral meeting either in Moscow or Helsinki and then he [Lavrov] said: "I will be there in Helsinki for the OSCE ministerial meeting on December 4-5. I have never missed an OSCE ministerial meeting and I will never miss one. It's a very important organization for me."
RFE/RL: A major point of contention between Russia and the West is recognition by Moscow of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent entities. Do you see circumstances under which this recognition may be reversed?
Stubb: I think we're in this for a long haul. A lot of people make a comparison between Kosovo and South Ossetia and Abkhazia and I don't want to make that comparison because Kosovo was a very separate case. There we had an eight-year UN-led process. There had been what one could call a military invasion of another country, if you will. So, there was an international effort. And also if you look at the figures in terms of recognitions, of course, in South Ossetia and Abkhazia it's quite limited -- two countries as far as I can see so far.
People realize that this is a very sensitive issue and will probably have repercussions in other types of, how would I say -- strivings towards independence around the world because a lot of countries have similar situations. Can there be a reversal? I don't know, you'll have to ask the Russian Federation that. At this particular stage I'd say that we're in this for the long haul. We're talking about an eight- to 10- to 15-year process. And what comes out at the end of that -- I don't know. Perhaps we'll be looking for a similar model [to the one] that has been used in Cyprus. Perhaps it's too early to say what that model will be.
Working With Saakashvili
RFE/RL: Russia is adamant in its position that President Saakashvili is history. Is there a way to find a long-lasting solution to the conflict as long as Saakashvili is in power?
Stubb: We're looking for an international solution and we must all keep in mind that Saakashvili has been democratically elected. There's no way in which we can move into a situation where anyone by intimidation tries to force the resignation of a democratically elected leader of another country. We have to be very careful when we use such language and it hasn't been used in the past few weeks either.
Now, can we work with Saakashvili? Of course we can. Should there be an international presence? Yes. And we'll keep it; we'll keep it in there. But it is quite clear that the relations between Georgia and Russia are very tense at the moment. And there's no love lost between the leaders of the two countries. And that's why I think mediation is very important and I think the OSCE is quite good at mediating."
RFE/RL: Do you see in the near future a possibility of restarting the political dialogue between Sukhumi and Tbilisi?
Stubb: Yes. It's going to take time. We'll start on October 15 and what we're trying to do now is to have the OSCE, the UN, and the EU work together for a common solution. That's why the EU has nominated Pierre Morel, that's why the UN has nominated Belgium's [Ambassador Johan] Verbeke, and that's why I nominated Heike Talvite to lead an international effort to try to find a solution. And to get a dialogue going between Georgia, between South Ossetia, between Abkhazia. And I'm quite confident that we'll get it at the end of the day. These things just don't happen overnight. It's not going to happen. We're not going to find a solution during the Finnish presidency [of the OSCE]. We will most probably not find a solution during the Greek presidency. And we'll be lucky to find a solution during the Kazakh presidency. So, you know, we're in this for a long term but I'm quite hopeful that the dialogue will start."
RFE/RL: Russia is insisting that all major international conflicts should be resolved only through the UN Security Council, not through the EU or other institutions. How does this fit with the OSCE agenda?
Stubb: My argument would be that we actually need all three institutions. Now, the situation, I think, is quite clear with the UN -- it is the body which gives us international law and mandates, for instance, for peacekeeping operations. And in that sense, I think, that Foreign Minister Lavrov is correct that nothing can be done without the UN. At the same time we have two separate mandates here. The UN has been in charge of Abkhazia. We, the OSCE, have been in charge of South Ossetia. My argument is that now [we] need to look at these two conflicts as a package and therefore all three institutions need to be involved. Now, we should realize that there is a spillover effect to the other, so-called "frozen" conflicts.
One is, of course, Nagorno-Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan where I think Turkey will and should play a very strong role. And then the other one is Moldova-Transdniester where I think the discussions are ongoing. So, one might say that two of the conflicts became "unfrozen" and ended in violence but they might have a positive spillover effect in trying to find a peaceful solution for the other two.
And one thing I also want to stress is that after these conflicts the balance in the European Union will now shift from the western Balkans over to the Caucasus and actually to Central Asia. So, what the conflict has done is that it has given us a double realization: one is that our politics or policies are shifting towards the east, and two, that at the center of the European foreign policy, no matter what the new threats are, or no matter what kind of threats there are, no matter what kind of international politics we do, is the relationship between EU and Russia. And as I have argued: the more European Russia is, the more European Russia becomes -- the better off we all are.
RFE/RL: How are the OSCE observers in South Ossetia going to interact with the EU monitors given that the two groups will have separate mandates?
Stubb: Actually the agenda is quite similar. On the OSCE side you have two separate missions, though. One is the [mission] for 20 military observers who can work within the areas adjacent to Georgia, South Ossetia. They have a general mandate, kind of the same mandate that the EU observers have, if you will. And then we have eight who have a mandate dating back to the 1990s who should be able to move freely in South Ossetia. The job of a military observer or civilian observers is very similar: you basically get into your ACP -- wagon, protected Land Cruiser, that's not a product placement by the way -- and you go and report on what you see.
Of course our aim on the OSCE side is twofold: one is to get the eight military observers back into South Ossetia, and I've had a very good discussion about it today with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I'm quite hopeful on that. And the other aim is to get an additional 80 observers into Georgia and the security zone. And I'm actually quite hopeful, much more hopeful than I was last week.