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Georgia: Tbilisi Lobbies EU For Border Monitors, Harder Stance On Russia

Nino Burdjanadze (file photo) Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze is visiting Brussels to meet with the EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and the bloc's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana. Burdjanadze is lobbying for an EU-led border observation mission to replace an OSCE mission that has been vetoed by Russia. In an interview with RFE/RL, Burdjanadze said that Tbilisi also wants the EU to put pressure on Russia to withdraw its bases from Georgia and to play a constructive role in resolving the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Brussels, 12 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia is asking for greater EU support in its fraught relations with Russia.

This time, the message is being carried by Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, who arrived in Brussels yesterday. She is one of the most senior politicians in the country, having briefly assumed presidential powers during the ousting of Eduard Shevardnadze in late 2003.

Burdjanadze told RFE/RL in an interview yesterday that Georgia must not be left “tete-a-tete with Russia in a very difficult situation.”

Tensions sour Georgian-Russian relations on a number of fronts. Currently on top of the Georgian agenda is Moscow’s decision in December 2004 to use its veto to terminate a monitoring mission operated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the border between the two countries.
One source of acrimony is the continued presence of Russian military bases in Georgia.

Burdjanadze said that Georgia is now looking to the EU to take over the mission as Russia does not have a say in the bloc’s decisions. The EU has offered to oversee a training mission for Georgian border guards, but that is not enough for Tbilisi.

“What is most important -- what was most important -- in this border-monitoring operation was this political [segment] which existed under the OSCE framework. A political [segment] where observers could declare that there was no violence on the borders, that there were no problems, because trainers and officers could not make some kind of political statement -- and that is why Russians are not against a training mission,” Burdjanadze said.

Talks among EU member states on a possible takeover of the OSCE border-monitoring mission are in deadlock. A number of member states -- France, Germany, Italy, among others -- are against it. They fear it could harm their ties with Russia.

So far, three experts have been dispatched by the EU to Georgia to strengthen the Tbilisi office of the bloc’s special representative in the region, Heikki Talvitie. Lithuania has also sent a group of officials to assess the possibilities for assistance.

Another source of acrimony is the continued presence of Russian military bases in Georgia. At an OSCE meeting in Istanbul in 1999, Russia agreed to withdraw its forces from the four bases. However, so far, it has only vacated two facilities.

Burdjanadze said the Istanbul agreement concerns the security of all of Europe, as it is linked to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). That treaty, signed in 1990, foresaw a reduction of troop levels across the continent.

“I think that as the Istanbul agreement was very much [about] European security, very [closely linked] to the CFE treaty, which is important for many European countries, Europe should play a more serious role in this direction because, despite the fact that we, Georgians, understand how important the ratification of the CFE treaty is, we will not ratify this document until Russia will withdraw military bases from Georgian territory,” Burdjanadze said.

Burdjanadze quickly adds that this should not be viewed as an ultimatum. She said she hopes the EU will understand that this is Georgia’s only possibility to press Russia to fulfill its obligations.

Burdjanadze will also raise a third issue during her visit. That is the so-called frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. She told RFE/RL that Georgia wants to resolve the conflicts in a peaceful manner and does not want to use force. She pointed to recent diplomatic moves by Tbilisi promising a degree of autonomy for both separatist regions.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the frozen conflicts during their informal gathering in Luxembourg on 15 and 16 April.

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