PRAGUE, 16 February 2006 -- Russia has reacted with firmness to the Georgian parliament’s vote.
In a statement posted on its website, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow would “continue to act in accordance with its international obligations” and would not evade its responsibilities as a guarantor of stability and security in South Ossetia.
The ministry says the Georgian resolution, which “risks further escalating tension in the conflict zone,” was met with "alarm” in the Russian capital. Moscow says the withdrawal of its peacekeepers may prompt Georgia to forcibly reassert control over South Ossetia, where most residents hold Russian passports.Any Peacekeepers But Russian
Addressing reporters after the vote, Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze summed up Tbilisi’s position: “We will ensure that the Russian peacekeepers, who have not been neutral and have in fact become a party to the conflict, are replaced with a neutral and objective peacekeeping force that represents the international community. That is our main task.”
Georgian deputies applauding parliament's decision on 14 February (AFP)
Claiming Russia is supporting South Ossetia, Georgia would like the international community to play an active role in the conflict zone. In particular, Tbilisi has suggested that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the European Union, or the United States act as guarantors of the 1992 Russian-Georgian agreement that effectively put an end to Tbilisi's war with South Ossetia.
The OSCE is monitoring the activities of the Joint Peacekeeping Force that has been deployed in the conflict zone for the past 14 years. The organization is also mediating in the Georgian-South Ossetian peace talks. But it has given no sign it could help with the deployment of an international peacekeeping force.
The European Union has not officially reacted to the Georgian proposal. The United States has expressed concern that a hasty Russian withdrawal could lead to further destabilization in the conflict zone.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has made no secret that he would like troops from Ukraine and the Baltic states -- which have friendly relations with Tbilisi -- to replace the Russian peacekeepers. But South Ossetia’s President Eduard Kokoity on 15 February rejected such an idea.
Only Russian Peacekeepers Welcome
“We are a sovereign state, a state that is independent from Georgia," Kokoity said. "Apart from Russian peacekeepers, no one will be stationed on the territory of the republic of South Ossetia. Those countries that have already responded favorably to the Georgian proposal should think twice. I have in mind here Ukraine and the Baltic states. Even morally, those states have no right to send peacekeeping contingents here, because they’re supporting Georgia; they’re arming Georgia."
At the core of the current debate is whether Tbilisi has the right to unilaterally amend the 1992 agreement and the format of the peace negotiations that also involves South Ossetia and Russia’s republic of North Ossetia. In theory at least, all four parties to the talks contribute equally to the Joint Peacekeeping Force.
"Apart from Russian peacekeepers, no one will be stationed on the territory of the republic of South Ossetia."
Addressing reporters after meeting with Burdjanadze in Tbilisi, the deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Defense Committee, Mikhail Babich, today reiterated Moscow’s claims that all decisions regarding the peacekeeping mission must be taken on a consensual basis.
“Three sides -- Russia [and its republic of North Ossetia], [South] Ossetia, and Georgia -- are involved in the activities of the peacekeeping contingent," Babich said. "This is an international contingent and its efficiency must be assessed only by taking into account the position of all the sides involved in the peacekeeping mission.”
Russian peacekeepers this month in South Ossetia (TASS)
Andrei Kokoshin, the chairman of the State Duma’s CIS Affairs Committee, was even more categorical when he assessed the Georgian parliament's vote. Although the resolution calls for a review of the 1992 Sochi agreement, Kokoshin warned Tbilisi against denouncing the pact. “All these agreements are internationally recognized and Georgia would grossly violate international laws if it were to unilaterally denounce them,” he said.Is The Treaty Still Valid?
But not everyone agrees with Kokoshin. Levan Aleksidze, a Georgian legal expert who has taken part in peace negotiations with South Ossetia, told RFE/RL’s Georgian Service on 14 February that Tbilisi has the right to withdraw from the Sochi agreement if its deems it necessary.
“The  Vienna Convention [on the Law of Treaties] says that if one of the sides systematically violates a treaty and puts the implementation of its objectives under threat, then the other side has the right to suspend its participation to the treaty," Aleksidze said.
Article 54 of the UN's Vienna Convention says a party may withdraw from a treaty “in conformity with the provisions of the treaty; or at any time by consent of all the parties after consultation with the other contracting states.”
The Vienna Convention also says that no party can withdraw from a treaty that contains no provision to that effect unless “it is established that the parties intended to admit the possibility of denunciation or withdrawal; or a right of denunciation or withdrawal may be implied by the nature of the treaty.”
Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Khaindrava has admitted that the government would meet “many obstacles” in implementing the parliament’s resolution. However, he said he was sure the will of the lawmakers would be respected.
(RFE/RL Georgian Service correspondent Jimsher Rekhviashvili contributed to this report.)
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