The messenger logo

Freeing buffer zones first stage of de-occupation

Friday, October 3
The EU has fulfilled its promise. It has sent more than 200 observers from 22 member countries to Georgia and they started work on October 1.

The Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement under which these observers came also states that the Russian armed forces should withdraw from the so called “buffer zones” by October 10. This will be the first step in the de-occupation of Georgian territory and might possibly form the prelude to removing the invaders from the rest of the country. But this could be a long process, for reasons we have all come to understand.

The EU has performed a really heroic act by organizing a full scale mission in just 20 days, with a twelve month mandate and a budget of EURO 35 million. Russia made no secret of the fact that it intended to continue deploying its troops and maintaining its illegal checkpoints in the buffer zones it had established. It also sought to extend its presence to Poti, Zugdidi, Senaki and other places in Western Georgia and control the segment of a main motorway and adjacent territories around South Ossetia. If it had not been for the EU and its French leadership’s serious efforts, Moscow would have carried out its wicked intentions to occupy much larger portions of Georgian territory than it has.

There are three sorts of “Russian occupied territory” in Georgia. The first is the lands controlled by separatists before the war broke out on August 7, known as the conflict zones. The second is the land within the administrative borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia which was under the control of the legal Georgian Government of those regions at that point, such as the Kodori Gorge, the Akhalgori district and others. The third is the so called buffer zones – territories outside the conflict zones. In reality the buffer zones are nothing more than a disguised form of occupation as the local population has been kicked out of them. Russian solders have frequently been caught looting and Ossetian or unidentifiable bandits have conducted atrocities. The EU mission should at least help the buffer zone IDPs return to their homes, whatever is left of them, should they still wish to do so.

Some political analysts and politicians in Georgia, and probably elsewhere, think that the Kremlin will not willingly retreat from the buffer zones. Many new provocations are predicted. These might include threatening the observers to try and force them to leave and give up their mission. This would enable Russia to delay its withdrawal from these zones for as long as it can. Why does Moscow want to stay? Because it realizes that as long as these buffer zones exist Georgia is crippled and cannot even dream of reestablishing its territorial integrity or economic wellfare.

The Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement was drawn up in haste due to the exigency of the war situation and obviously it has certain discrepancies, some clauses being vague and subject to multiple interpretations. The Kremlin is trying to promote what it sees as the new reality: that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are “independent states,” and therefore no longer subject to the provisions of the agreement which treat them as Georgian territory. Russia knows however that the Muscovite independence of these regions are not recognized by Europe, which has several times appealed to Russia to renounce its decision.

Moscow has responded to international condemnation by flexing its muscles like a narcissistic bodybuilder, sending its navy to Venezuela to show its strength to the rest of the world. However Moscow will eventually have to withdraw from the buffer zones, and they know this in the Kremlin. The problem that then arises will be, will the EU observers be able to enter separatist-controlled Tskhinvali and Sokhumi? Will it be possible to restore the situation which existed on August 6, as the ceasefire agreement demands? Will the international community accept as a fait accompli the ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population?

Much will become clear at the Geneva conference starting in mid October. The major issue here will be whether the EU and US will manage to persuade Russia to give up its imperialistic claims and renounce its recognition of the separatist regions. No one, anywhere, should be under any illusion that snatching only Georgian territory will satisfy Russia’s greed. On the contrary, its appetite has now been whetted. Any of its neighbours could become the next victim. The world has to be aware that this, rather than two new “independent states” for the map, is the new reality.

The tiger becomes more aggressive after tasting human blood. How many “ex-cannibals” have you ever met?