UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
August 28, 2008
UN Webcast Archive
5969th Meeting (PM)
SECURITY COUNCIL BRIEFED BY POLITICAL AFFAIRS, PEACEKEEPING ON GEORGIA DEVELOPMENTS,
INCLUDING 26 AUGUST RECOGNITION DECREES ON ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA
Russian Federation Reads Out Decrees to Council;
Georgia Says Declarations Illegal, Country Invaded, But Not Defeated
IRAKLI ALASANIA ( Georgia) said he appreciated the convening of the meeting and thanked the Secretariat for the updates on the situation. He said the request for a meeting of the Council had been necessitated by the illegal unilateral act of the Russian Federation concerning South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On 26 August, a decree had been made by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in which he referred to the two regions as republics, in violation of the principles of respect for the territorial integrity of States. The Russian Federation’s action was, therefore, contrary to the very principles and values on which the United Nations was founded. The Russian Federation, a member of the Security Council, had interfered in the principles of the inviolability of States and their territorial integrity, and its illegal and unilateral action had already come under condemnation by the international community. Now, the Russian Federation must be sent the strongest message by the Security Council so as to ensure other separatist elements in the world did not misread the message about such action.
Reviewing the background of Georgia’s road to independence, he said all Georgians had voted in a referendum to live in an independent State of Georgia. All claims by the Russian State about the areas in question were incorrect. A State’s concrete territory was defined by the indigenous population and others who had been agreed upon. In the November 1996 plebiscite, the people had made the restoration of Georgia’s territorial integrity a prerequisite. With its action, the Russian Federation had proved that nothing could come from negotiation. It had completed its expansionist policy against Georgia, which had begun with Georgia’s independence. Several thousand people were now suffering and displaced, forced out of their homes. They faced possible death as a result of being Georgian. Paramilitary gangs carried out attacks on ethnic Georgians. Separatist insurgents were at the heart of the violence against Georgians. They were warmly welcomed at the Kremlin. The few civilians who remained in those areas had been given Russians passports. The activity that was claimed to be peacekeeping was a cover for military action.
He said many parties had expressed a willingness to help the victims in Georgia, but the Russian Federation had opposedhumanitarian assistance. The Russian Federation had also violated the agreement drawn up by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and continued to do so unilaterally. The conclusion was that the step the Russian Federation had taken was without any international validity and had no impact on Georgia’s status. Further, the Russian Federation must be checked, so as to prevent it overstepping boundaries elsewhere. Georgia had been invaded and occupied, but it was not defeated. It would rebuild Georgia for Georgians, South Ossetians and all ethnic populations in Georgia.
VITALY I. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said the briefings testified to the fact that, despite continuing problems caused by military actions by Georgia against South Ossetia, the situation was being normalized. On access, he said that the conflict zone had been visited by leaders of many international humanitarian organizations. He thanked the representative of Georgia for having asked for the meeting, as it gave him the opportunity to read the decrees issued by the President of the Russian Federation on 26 August. He then read the Decree on the Recognition of the Republic of Abkhazia and the Decree on the Recognition of the Republic of South Ossetia, and said that today’s meeting could not be objective without representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
He said the Russian Federation had recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in order to ensure the survival of the population in the face of Georgian repression. Giving a historical overview of events since 1992, he said that genuine perspectives for peace had been eliminated when, at the end of 2003, power had been seized by Mikheil Saakashvili. His rule had been marked by inflexibility, a tax on peacekeepers and a deprecating attitude towards the democratically elected leaders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian Federation had shown restraint. With the aggressive attack on South Ossetia on 8 August that had caused the deaths of peacekeepers and civilians, Saakashvili himself had put an end to the sovereignty of Georgia, leaving the inhabitants of the two regions to defend themselves against his military regime.
He said that, at some stage, the external patrons had attempted to restrain the Georgian President, but he had gotten out of control. The glimmers of hope created by the Sarkozy-Medvedev plan had quickly evaporated when Mr. Saakashvili had rejected it. External patrons of the regime were supplying weapons, something which was unacceptable. The President of the Russian Federation had, therefore, taken the decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. That decision had been based on, among other things, the United Nations Charter, the Finland Final Act and other international laws. Peoples could not be deprived of their right to independence.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX (France), also speaking on behalf of the European Union, said his country was very committed to finding a solution to the problem presented in Georgia. The six-point initiative had been signed by the Russian Federation and Georgia, as well as the two separatist entities. The discussions and negotiations had not been easy, but substantial progress had been made before the Russian action of recognizing the separatist entities as independent States had occurred.
He said the Council had reaffirmed the territorial integrity of Georgia, but the Russian Federation had stated weeks ago that the United Nations had failed in Georgia. Military action could not be recognized as a valid way to redefine the borders of neighbours. The European Union would meet Monday to consider the ramifications of Russia’s actions. The agreement drawn up by France and agreedto by the four parties involved must be honoured and military forces must be withdrawn to their pre-conflict positions. The international mechanism to replace current patrols in South Ossetia must be deployed as soon as possible. Access to humanitarian assistance must be immediately made available to all who needed it.
The return of the displaced must be one of the priorities for the region, he concluded. Protection of the vulnerable was also a priority, especially that of Georgians in the separatist entities. The distressing level of violence must cease and an impartial United Nations mission to investigate the humanitarian conditions in the entities must be dispatched.
GIULIO TERZI DI SANT’AGATA ( Italy) said the Russian decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent States had made an alarming crisis more complex. Territorial integrity was an incontestable principle. The immediate goal was to achieve a peaceful solution to the crisis and implementation of the six-point platform, including an international monitoring system.
He said that, as negotiations continued within the framework of OSCE, his country was prepared to send monitors within that framework. The role of the European Union was also crucial. His Government had supported the efforts of the French presidency, and next Monday the European Council would reiterate that what had been agreed upon should be implemented, in particular regarding the international monitoring mechanism. He emphasized the need to ensure freedom of access for humanitarian entities.
DUMISANI KUMALO ( South Africa) said his country had repeatedly stressed the need for countries to resolve differences through negotiations. A resort to the use of force diminished the chance for a lasting solution to a situation and it increased the suffering of all the people involved. It was disappointing that the Council had not been able to endorse the French agreement signed by the four parties involved in the current conflict in Georgia, since it had presented a good basis for consultations. The Council’s failure to endorse that document had now further complicated the matter. In addition, it would have been helpful for the Council to allow all parties concerned to address the Council. The Council must continue working with all concerned to achieve a lasting political solution to the situation.
RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) said his country had lent its support to all people striving for self-determination, but that was not the same as supporting the violation of the territorial integrity of States. The territorial integrity of Georgia had been reaffirmed by his country. All States should respect that integrity, as well.
JOHN SAWERS ( United Kingdom) said that, since the outbreak of fighting, his country’s approach had been based on full support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and to efforts to end the violence. It had supported the French efforts that had resulted in the six-point agreement. He continued to support that agreement, including the point on Russian withdrawal. There had been optimism for a circulated draft resolution that would have recognized the six points and establish the basis for progress towards a lasting settlement. Russia’s decision to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, however, had torpedoed that optimism. Russian military action and its recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was a unilateral attempt to redraw the borders of a neighbouring country through the use of force. That was unacceptable and a breach of the six-point agreement.
He said Russia’s decision also had humanitarian implications, apart from political ones. Ethnic Georgians had been pressured to leave their homes. He called on the Russian Federation to abide by international law; to act now to ensure full and free humanitarian access and to prevent violence against ethnic Georgians; and to implement in full its undertakings under the six-point agreement, including withdrawal of forces. It was unacceptable that Russia still occupied parts of Georgia beyond the conflict zone. The use of force and intimidation against civilians and annexations could not be the basis for a peaceful settlement.
JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said the Council was faced with a situation where a United Nations Member State was being dismembered by force, which was unacceptable. The same State that had recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had executed an armed invasion. That same State had earlier circulated a note among Council members that a military invention was aimed at protecting the peacekeepers and Russian citizens in the two regions and preventing further armed attacks against them. “We cannot, and the international community should not, reward this approach, which is counter in all aspects to international law,” he said.
He continued to support the six-point plan and affirmed the territorial integrity of Georgia. The international community must now find a settlement of the unusual situation, he said. Such a settlement could not be based on “might is right” and must include respect for the territorial integrity of Georgia, the rights of the peoples of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the integrity of international law and the principles of peaceful coexistence as enshrined in the United Nations Charter.
NEVEN JURICA ( Croatia) said the Russian Federation’s action was regrettable. The territorial integrity of Georgia had been reaffirmed numerous times and yet, now, Russia’s illegitimate action would further complicate the situation. A settlement of the questions through negotiation would now be very hard to achieve. The best course was for the Russian Federation to abide by the Sarkozy-authored agreement. Buffer zones should be created around the boundaries involved. The humanitarian situation, which was a grave concern, should be addressed and all Governments should assist in the efforts. The displaced must be allowed to return to their homes.
MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said he had been watching the situation apprehensively. The developments were of deep concern and did not speak well for the Council. His country had spoken in favour of diplomacy and the power of argument over force. It had been encouraging to see capitals all over the world becoming engaged in the process of providing assistance in the Georgia situation. The Sarkozy six-point document had been a welcome development and it was disappointing that the Council had not stepped up to its responsibility. It should have ensured that the principle of the inviolability of a State’s sovereignty and territorial integrity remained intact. Instead, the Council had remained silent in the face of the violation. The principles of the peaceful resolution of differences and of territorial integrity were fundamental. Consistency in the application of principles should guide further actions on the situation.
ALEJANDRO WOLFF ( United States) said his country condemned Russia’s decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent States. Some facts did not change, such as Russia’s invasion of Georgia, its continued occupation of parts of Georgia and its disregard for Georgia’s territorial integrity. Those facts were prelude to an attempt redraw the border of a neighbouring State. The recognition of independence was incompatible with the provisions of the United Nations Charter and of Security Council resolutions. In its first operative paragraph, resolution 1808 (2008) of 5 April, spelled out that the Security Council reaffirmed the commitment of all Member States to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia within internationally recognized borders. That unanimously adopted resolution had now been disregarded by the Russian Federation, a decision that could portent further disregard of the Organization by one of the permanent members of the Council. That was of concern to all Members of the United Nations.
He said the Russian Federation had not called on the Council to consider facts of 7 August and later, and had not worked through legitimate international institutions to deal with its concerns. The Russian Federation did not need to recognize the two regions in order to protect peacekeepers and civilians, as had been given as the original reason. By violating the security zone in Abkhazia, Russia had violated an area that was being patrolled by the United Nations, and had thereby violated the decisions of the Council. The Russian Federation had justified its invasion as trying to stop a genocide that had reportedly left 2,000 people dead. That charge should be investigated seriously, as should the charge of violence against ethnic Georgians.
Facts should be established by the United Nations, he said. There must also be an accurate account of the number of displaced persons. Were ethnic Georgians permitted to return to their homes, and if not, why? Was it not one of the established principles to ensure that all internally displaced persons, regardless of their ethnic background, could return to their homes? The Russian Federation needed to complete its withdrawal from Georgia and international mechanisms should be strengthened. Additional international observers must be permitted to patrol the security zones. Russia’s credibility and relations with its immediate neighbours and the international community were at stake.
Security Council President JAN GRAULS ( Belgium), he speaking in his national capacity, said he also rejected Russia’s unilateral act of recognizing the territories as independent States. That action had no basis in any legal measure. The action also posed a serious threat to the region. The decision by the Russian Federation must be reversed. The six-point agreement must be implemented, as augmented by the exchange of letters between Georgia and France, and violations of terms of the agreement must stop. The Council’s failure to endorse the agreement was disappointing. Therefore, the Council must now work on agreeing to a definition of the international security mechanism called for in the agreement. A United Nations fact-finding mission should be sent and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance must be ensured for all those affected.
Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that, if aliens had been present, they would have been proud of Council members who were full of principles. He liked the statement by the representative of the United States, who had reminded Council members that States must refrain from the use of force. He asked him, in that regard, if weapons of mass destruction had yet been found in Iraq. As for Council members who had emphasized the importance of complying with Council resolutions, he asked where they had been during the declaration of independence by Kosovo. Where had respect for international law been in that case? As for Costa Rica’s condemnation of the use of force bythe Russian Federation, he asked how his country was supposed to respond in the face of threats to wipe the South Ossetian capital off the face of the earth. In Beijing, on 8 August, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had appealed to United States President George W. Bush to ask President Saakashvili to stop the attacks. President Saakashvili had not listened to President Bush.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia had more grounds for independence than Kosovo, he said. Again giving a historical analysis, he said, among other things, that in 1991, Abkhazia had participated in a referendum on the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and a majority had been in favour of remaining with the Soviet Union. He also noted that, when Georgia had proclaimed independence, it had claimed to be the successor State of Georgia before it had joined the Soviet Union in 1921. South Ossetia, however, had only been formally included in Georgia in 1922. The Russian Federation continued to respect the six principles of the agreement as read out by the French President in the Kremlin on 12 August.
As for the question about why the Russian Federation had come to Abkhazia, he said that, following the attacks on South Ossetia, there had been Georgian plans for aggression against Abkhazia. After the violence against South Ossetia, it was impossible for the Russian Federation not to take the will of the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their wish for independence into account. He was ready to work constructively towards a draft resolution that included the six principles, but noted that there already was a Russian draft resolution in that regard.
Mr. ALASANIA ( Georgia) said most people had expected his country to be emotional in front of the Council over the situation, but it seemed that the Russian Federation’s Ambassador was an honest man who felt uncomfortable defending his country’s action, in light of the political analysis and the international community’s wide condemnation of the clearly illegal action. The fact was that Georgia’s people had voted to be independent. Russia must accept that the Soviet Union was dead. Georgia, complete with Abkhazia and other parts of the Georgian territory, had been proclaimed independent in 1918.
Further, events must not be viewed in the context of only the past month. For more than a year, Georgia had been warning the Council of repeated Russian Federation actions, including the bombardment of an area close to the South Ossetian conflict zone and insurgents in Abkhazia being led by Russian special forces.
Georgia was prepared to cooperate with a fact-finding mission to evaluate the humanitarian situation. The full integrity of Georgia with its internationally recognized borders must be respected and the situation on the ground must not be seen as separate from the humanitarian aspects of the situation. Perhaps the Russians and Abkhazians would not favour the initiative, but the United Nations must go into upper Abkhazia, so that the internally displaced people there could begin returning to their homes.
Mr. URBINA (Costa Rica) reiterated what he had said earlier, namely that his country was still ready to find a lasting solution to the conflict that included the territorial integrity of Georgia, the rights of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian people and the laws of civilized coexistence as provided for in the United Nations Charter. His President had tried to strike a balanced position in that regard.
As for Costa Rica’s position on Kosovo, he said any similarities between the two situations had been negated because of the use of force. He welcomed the recognition of Kosovo’s independence as a legal position, butwas supportive of the path Serbia had taken by seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. That was the principle of civilized coexistence; the rule of law and not of force. In both cases, there were different points of view and also different approaches. Under no circumstances, however, should one strive for a solution based on “might is right”.
Mr. SAWERS ( United Kingdom) said he would clarify one aspect of what had been said about Kosovo. The military action that had been undertaken in Kosovo had been based on a multilateral decision. It had been carried out for a humanitarian purpose and it had been taken only when all diplomatic efforts had been exhausted. In addition, what had followed was 9 years of United Nations administration and further exhaustion of diplomatic efforts before Kosovo, with substantial international support, had moved for independence. By contrast in the Georgia situation, Russia had taken only three weeks to move militarily for the purpose of redrawing borders under the pretext of humanitarian action.
Mr. WOLFF ( United States) said that, since he was not a psychologist, he did not understand the free association of Mr. Churkin. Eight members of the Council had recognized the independence of Kosovo, none of them under the cover of force. There was a body of resolutions on Iraq and a history of violations of those resolutions. There had been divisions over the Iraq war, but there was no territorial ambition to dismember Iraq. There were no territorial ambitions in Afghanistan. All of that could not detract from the stubborn facts that the Russian Federation had invaded Georgia, that it was occupying Georgia and that it was dismembering Georgia. No amount of trying to compare that situation with dissimilar situations could excuse that.
Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said he was fully comfortable with the actions of his country, but he was uncomfortable with colleagues applying double standards in situations that were obvious to everyone.