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Georgia Slams Russia For Shutting Down UN Mission

Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN
UNITED NATIONS -- Tbilisi has strongly condemned Russia's decision to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at extending the UN Observer Mission in Georgia.

The move brings to an end two weeks of heated negotiations, and means the withdrawal of the last international monitoring mission on Georgia's breakaway territories. Russia's veto, which effectively shuts down the UN mission in Georgia, has drawn a barrage of criticism from officials in Tbilisi.

Early on June 16, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze was one of the first to lash out at Moscow, saying: "A veto is like a nuclear weapon: even if you have it, you shouldn't use it. It is the ultimate evidence of your isolation and weakness."

Russia on June 15 exercised its veto power to terminate the nearly 16-year-old UN observer mission, created in 1993 to monitor a cease-fire between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Four of the council’s 15 members, including permanent member China, abstained from voting. The other 10 backed the resolution, but Russia's veto overrode them.

The draft resolution -- sponsored by Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Turkey, Britain, and the United States -- had suggested extending the mission's mandate by two weeks to allow more time for negotiations with Russia over the fate of UN monitors in Georgia.

The force, whose mandate formally expired on June 15, comprised 131 military observers and 20 police officers. It was the only international observation body based in Abkhazia since Georgia's war last year with Russia over South Ossetia.

'Sign Of Isolation'

David Darchiashvili, the chairman of Georgia's parliamentary committee for Euro-Atlantic integration, said Moscow will regret vetoing the proposal.

"Russia paid a huge political and diplomatic price," because it clearly challenged European and U.S. leaders," which will "definitely have an impact on its relations" with the West," Darchiashvili said. "Russia will once again be labeled as a country opposed to international law, as an aggressor."

But Russia has defended its decision. Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said on June 15 that the draft resolution was "unacceptable" because it retained commitments to Georgia's territorial integrity.

Following the Russia-Georgia war of August 2008 and Moscow's unilateral recognition of Georgia's breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Moscow demanded these "new realities" be reflected in the text of the resolution.

The Western powers, who do not recognize the regions' self-declared independent status, insisted on language that would reaffirm Georgia's territorial integrity.

In refusing to allow a two-week technical extension of the UNOMIG mandate, Russia terminated the 16-year-old mission consisting of 150 peacekeepers. This now raises concerns about a possible flare-up in instability.

Four of the Security Council's 15 members including China, a permanent member, abstained from voting. The other 10 were in favor of the resolution but Russia's veto power effectively overrode them.

Some diplomats at the UN said this situation was another stark reminder of the council's outdated policies and voting rules giving the five permanent Security Council members a veto right -- which can be traced back the UN's founding at the end of World War II.

Some, including former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have called for overhaul of its voting rules, which they say have little relevance to the political realities of the 21st century.

'Deep Disappointment'

Speaking to reporters after the resolution was voted, Thomas Matussek, Germany’s ambassador to the UN, expressed the European Union's "deep disappointment" over Moscow adamant objections.

"Unfortunately and regrettably the Russian veto put an end to that [UN mission]. It also put an end to the 15 years of the presence of the UN mission in Georgia to the detriment of the many people on the ground who need the UN for humanitarian reasons to safeguard their physical security, for the safe and dignified return of internally displaced persons and refugees," Matussek said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already ordered the UN mission to terminate its activities in Georgia. The departure of the UN further narrows the options for independent international monitoring of the situation within Georgia proper and its breakaway provinces.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which maintains a mission in Georgia that includes monitors for South Ossetia, is likely to face a similar fate, as negotiations on extending its magnate have bogged down over the status of Tbilisi's breakaway territories.

The closure of the UN and OSCE missions means there will be no independent presence left to monitor military movements or possible cease-fire violations in either Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili said his country would now rely more than ever on the European Union's current monitoring mission in Georgia.

The European Union deployed more than 200 monitors to Georgia in October 2008, just weeks after last year's war. The mission's current mandate lasts a year and is open to extension. But it is based in Georgia proper, and has been denied access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Aleksandre Lomaia, Georgia's ambassador to the UN, said after the Security Council meeting was adjourned that he hopes recognized human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, will be able to continue their presence and monitoring on the ground. The EU will also continue with its monitoring efforts.

Lomaia reaffirmed his earlier accusations that Secretary-General Ban was pressured by Russia to drop references to Georgia's territorial integrity in his May 18 report on the situation in the country. Both Moscow and Ban have firmly rejected those accusations.

Diplomats at the UN say that Moscow's rigid stance at the Security Council is a logical continuation of its frayed relations with Tbilisi.

Russia has repeatedly said that after the assault of Georgian forces on Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, in August, the Georgian government and specifically its president, Mikheil Saakashvili, have lost the moral ground to represent their country.

RFE/RL's Georgian Service contributed to this report