BRUSSELS -- European diplomats in Brussels have dismissed a report by Germany's magazine "Der Spiegel" that an independent committee of international experts sponsored by the European Union will issue a report laying most of the blame for the August 2008 war between Russia and Georgia with Tbilisi.
The EU says the expert group is still fine-tuning the report, which is scheduled to be released on September 30, and discussing its findings with Georgian, Russian, U.S., and EU officials on the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili denounced the "Der Spiegel" article on September 22.
"Nobody takes this kind of newspaper quote seriously," he said.
Both Russia and Georgia deny responsibility for the war.
Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini heads the expert group drafting the report on the war's causes, commissioned by the EU in December 2008. Behind the scenes, EU officials are anxious not to be drawn into any controversy from the report's publication and have been keen to distance the EU from its findings. They say the EU will not pass express judgment on the committee's conclusions.
On September 22, a group of European intellectuals including French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, published an open letter urging the EU to help Georgia reclaim Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"It will not be one-way traffic," one official says of the report. He said Tagliavini was given a two-month extension of an original deadline in July after coming across what was at the time described as substantial new evidence.
Much of the new material is understood to have originated in Georgia, whose government was initially reported to have been less than keen to cooperate with the inquiry. Among other evidence, Georgia is believed to possess mobile-phone records from operators in South Ossetia, all of which were run by Georgian companies during the war.
EU officials say their primary goal is to encourage reconciliation between Tbilisi, Moscow, and Georgia's two pro-Moscow breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
In Georgia, the EU has increased monitors' patrols ahead of the report's release. Geneva Talks Continue
Diplomats also say talks in Geneva between Moscow, Tbilisi, and the two separatist regions appear to be edging toward an agreement that may help defuse tensions in the conflict zone. Pierre Morel, the EU's envoy at the talks, told EU ambassadors in Brussels on September 18 that despite "difficult" talks last week, the parties had agreed to work toward a "framework" security agreement.
The agreement is mandated by the EU-brokered August 2008 cease-fire ending the war. The accord would regulate how, where, in what numbers troops and monitors around the conflict zone are deployed. Russia maintains thousands of troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the cease-fire and has blocked access to the separatist regions by international monitors.
Moscow had long insisted Georgia sign separate agreements on the non-use of violence with Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Tbilisi has called the demand utterly unacceptable, saying it would amount to recognizing the breakaway provinces as independent. But Moscow appears to have relented.
The security agreement would also address the sensitive issue of the return of internally displaced persons to their homes. Tens of thousand of Georgians remain displaced by the war.
EU monitors along the border between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia in July.
The next round of talks in Geneva is scheduled for November 11.
The EU is also making tentative plans to discuss its own Georgia strategy at one of its next foreign ministers' meetings, possibly in November. The EU's executive commission has said it hopes the bloc's member states will provide a mandate to start negotiating an EU-Georgian Association Agreement in November.
On September 22, a group of European intellectuals led by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, and including former Czech President Vaclav Havel, published an open letter urging the EU to help Georgia reclaim Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
"Twenty years after the emancipation of half of the continent, a new wall is being built in Europe," they wrote, "this time across the sovereign territory of Georgia."