In an exclusive interview, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker provides his insights into the crisis in Georgia.
Speaking to RFE/RL correspondent Ahto Lobjakas, Volker says Russian troops in Georgia must ultimately withdraw and return to the lines held before fighting broke out last month. And he stresses that Abkhazia and South Ossetia must participate in upcoming talks on their future only as "parts of Georgian sovereign territory."RFE/RL:
Regarding the terms negotiated September 8 by the European Union in Moscow on the withdrawal of Russian forces from parts of Georgia, are they good enough for the United States?Kurt Volker:
Let me start out by saying we appreciate the efforts of French President [Nicolas] Sarkozy and the European Union to continue to urge Russia to implement the agreement that was reached on August 12. We think it is important that they continue those efforts.
Ultimately, if we're going to have a settlement to the conflict zones, all the parties [in Geneva] are going to have to be engaged, but they will not be there as independent states.
I think that it has now been four weeks since Russia first promised on August 12 to implement the cease-fire and to withdraw its forces. We still haven't seen it yet. So, it was important to have that step in Moscow [on September 8], to urge Russia to again to comply with that. The terms there are important steps, they can bring us in the right direction. We have to see Russia implement them.
And we have to remember that this is all in the context of our firm support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.RFE/RL:
Do you think the European Union could bring more pressure to bear on Russia?Volker:
I think that we have to see Russia implement what it has committed [itself] to, including the totality of the August 12 agreement. In order for them to do that they need to know that the international community is watching and is prepared to respond if they don't.
And we've seen, I think, a fairly united stance from the international community in recent weeks, including the EU, including NATO, including individual countries, and including G7 foreign ministers speaking with each other. I'm quite sure that that kind of international pressure and the fact of Russia isolating itself from the international community would only intensify if they failed to implement the agreement.'Bottom Lines Are Very Clear'
Do you think the European Union and the United States share the same bottom line when it comes to the long term of the Russian withdrawal? Does the United States think Russia will need to remove its troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as well as the rest of Georgia?Volker:
I think the bottom lines here are very clear and fully supported by both the United States and the EU, and for that matter also here within NATO. To be specific on the point that you raise:
We need to first make sure that Russia has done what it has said it would do before we get to the point of talking about the structure of the Geneva talks.
The agreement reached on August 12 says that the Russians need to withdraw to the positions before August 6. That means that they would have some troops in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia, but they would not have combat forces and they would be at the level that was pertaining at that time. That is a common view of the EU, the United States, and NATO.
We also have a common view that we stand by and support Georgia's sovereignty and integrity, that these regions are not independent states but, in fact, part of the sovereign territory of Georgia, and that we want to see a long-term process in place for a political settlement for these conflict zones.RFE/RL:
Does the United States support the Russian request that South Ossetia and Abkhazia be fully represented at the talks in Geneva that are to start on October 15?Volker:
We need to first make sure that Russia has done what it has said it would do before we get to the point of talking about the structure of the Geneva talks. We need to make sure that Russia is, in fact, implementing the withdrawal of its forces that it promised to do.
Ultimately, if we're going to have a settlement to the conflict zones, all the parties are going to have to be engaged, but they will not be there as independent states. We would need to be engaging the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as part of Georgia's sovereign territory.
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here