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Diplomatic formula for the Caucasus

Topic: Georgia starts war against S.Ossetia

22:42 13/08/2008
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti international affairs observer Ivan Zakharchenko) - Part of diplomacy is the skill of selecting words that leave room for maneuver.

The French President Nicolas Sarkozy, having taken on the role of intermediary to end the war in South Ossetia, deployed that skill in full measure to agree with Moscow and Tbilisi the principles for settling the problem in the wake of the Georgian strike on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

Among the six principles agreed by the parties for the future of the self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia the key point involved calling for international talks to determine their future status. In a similar case of the province of Kosovo, whose independence from Serbia was unilaterally accepted by the West, Russia repeatedly warned that such a move would trigger a chain reaction of secessions of various territories in various countries.

The principle of multilateral talks on the status of the self-proclaimed republics of the Caucasus, however, was challenged by Georgia and amended in a way that Russia eventually agreed to. The new version says that future talks will deal simply with settling the problems of Abkhazia and Ossetia and not specifically their status.

Other principles include non-use of force and an end to all hostilities, free access to humanitarian aid, withdrawal of Georgian troops to their permanent stations and Russian troops to the positions occupied before the start of hostilities.

Russian peacekeepers will take extra security measures until international mechanisms are put in place. The last point, on the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, was challenged by Tbilisi, which is also unhappy because Sarkozy's formulas say nothing about Georgia's territorial integrity.

Does this mean France questions Georgia's territorial integrity?

At his press conference in Moscow, the French President used the more general terms of diplomacy to explain that he preferred the terms "independence" and "sovereignty" to the words "territorial integrity". He said they provided the "broader formula" required to end the conflict.

Apparently, as a concession to Georgia, Sarkozy agreed to seek to change the sixth principle and to delete the words about the future status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that imply a possible recognition of their secession from Georgia which took place de facto in the early 1990s also as a result of armed conflicts.

Russia went along with the amended and watered down formula, but did not renounce the possibility of international talks on the future status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

This was confirmed by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who told journalists that in international discussions it was impossible to solve the issues of the security of South Ossetia and Abkhazia "outside the context of status." The Minister said that they must be viewed from this angle with due account of the objective reality and the administrative systems in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In other words, diplomatic language turned out to suit both the Russian and the Georgian side, while each side derived its own meaning from the formula.

At the same time, as some analysts believe, the adjustment of the sixth principle of settlement in the region gives France some room to maneuver as a mediator and current president of the European Union, and the possibility to challenge the view that South Ossetia is not unassailably a part of Georgia.

According to Alexander Pikayev, head of the Disarmament and Conflict Resolution Department at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russia has agreed to change the formula, first, because it is convinced that it can insist on the discussion of the status of South Ossetia by recognizing it. Second, Moscow did not want to create further problems with the U.S. and the European Union. However, Mr Pikayev told RIA Novosti that it would hardly have changed the American position, while Sarkozy could not afford to retreat, so the wording could well have been disputed.

In any case, even the tweaked version of the principles would have been enough to stop the hostilities. And yet everybody understands that the arguments about the future of self-proclaimed republics may reach a pitch when diplomatic language is cast aside.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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