Russian veto deals death blow to U.N. force in Georgia


 Russia, at odds with Western powers over Georgia, vetoed on Monday a Western plan to extend the mandate of a U.N. mission in the former Soviet republic, in a death blow to the 130-strong observer force. There were 10 votes in favor and four abstentions, one of which was China’s. No country joined Russia in voting against. Reuter reports:

By Louis Charbonneau
A U.S.- and European-sponsored draft resolution would have extended for two weeks the mandate of the U.N. team in Georgia’s breakaway zone of Abkhazia, which declared independence last year after Russia’s brief war with Georgia.

"There is no point in extending it because it is based on old realities," Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council in an explanation of his vote against the plan.

There were 10 votes in favor and four abstentions, one of which was China’s. No country joined Russia in voting against.

The U.N. mission in Georgia was set up in 1993, after Abkhazia overthrew Tbilisi’s rule, to verify compliance with a ceasefire between Georgia and Abkhaz forces. Since its mandate, which expires at midnight New York time (12 a.m. EDT Tuesday), has not been extended, the entire mission will be shut down.

The point of the two-week extension plan had been to give Russia and the Western members of the 15-nation Security Council time to try to agree on a long-term plan for the U.N. mission.

Churkin told reporters earlier that Russia rejected the draft resolution because it referred to council resolution 1808 from April 2008, which reaffirms Georgia’s "territorial integrity." He described the reference as "political poison."

Any mention of resolution 1808 was unacceptable, Churkin said, because it was adopted four months prior to what he described as the "Georgian aggression" against South Ossetia, the Georgian breakaway province at the center of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

NOW UP TO EU MISSION?

Churkin told the council he had proposed extending the mission’s mandate until July 15 to allow time for negotiations, "provided there are no offensive references in that resolution." Western council members rejected that idea.

But French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said the Russians had wanted the council to take note of the existence of the "Republic of Abkhazia," which he said would be impossible for the Western powers.

"We could not and we will not compromise on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia," he said.

Western diplomats said the decision to push for a brief mandate extension came after months of negotiations between Russia, the United States, Germany, France and Britain on a long-term plan for the mission failed to produce an agreement.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s press office issued a statement saying he regretted the inability of the Security Council to reach agreement and would instruct the mission to "take all measures required to cease (its) operations."

U.S. envoy Rosemary DiCarlo told the council Washington "deeply regrets" the Russian veto. She and other Western envoys reaffirmed their support for Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Georgian Ambassador Alexander Lomaia told the council the Russian move was part of a "larger strategy … to roll back the international community’s presence in Georgia." Moscow last month vetoed a plan to keep monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Georgia.

British envoy Philip Parham said before the vote that if the mission was shut down, the European Union would have to think about ways to beef up its monitoring mission in Georgia.

"We the U.K. will certainly want to look with EU partners at the role of that mission going forward in the light of the end of (the) U.N. mission … and how the EU mission would be able to help to ensure that there isn’t a return to conflict," he told reporters.

The last time a resolution was vetoed was in July 2008 when Russia and China struck down a U.S.-British attempt to impose sanctions on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle of leaders.

The U.N. mandate in Georgia became politicized after Russia invaded Georgia last August. The Kremlin recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states after the war, a step that was condemned by Europe and the United States.

(Additional reporting by Patrick Worsnip; editing by Philip Barbara)

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