UN Still in Georgia — But For How Much Longer?

Before Russia and Georgia clashed this past August, the UN had, for over a decade, maintained a small (read: 150-odd unarmed observers) monitoring force in the tense region of Abkhazia. When fighting reached Abkhazia’s Upper Kodori Gorge, where the UN personnel were stationed, the mission pulled out. Since October, they’ve been operating on an awkward, interim basis, whose mandate expires on February 15 and which may be primed for collapse without committed re-evaluation.

Although the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) continues patrolling on both sides of the ceasefire line between the Government and Abkhaz separatists in the country’s north-west, it is in a “precarious” position which could quickly become untenable, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon writes in a new report to the Security Council.

Referring to a 1994 pact between the warring sides, Mr. Ban says that “the status of the Moscow Agreement, which provided the basis for its mandate and the ceasefire regime, is, at best, no longer clear.”

Given that Russo-Georgian war not only shook the entire regional geopolitical situation, but inflamed international fears of a “new Cold War,” I’d say that is an understatement.

With the disbanding last October of the Commonwealth of Independent States cadre of peacekeepers (really just a mix of Russians, Georgians, and locals), which provided UNOMIG’s security, the mission is now operating in the area with Russian peacekeepers and the Abkhaz military, relying “on the goodwill of the sides.” The gulf between the intense international attention lavished on the region’s “hot” conflict last summer and the scant reporting on the current dangerously simmering stalemate is in large part responsible for the world’s unpreparedness for the August war. Let’s hope more folks are paying attention this time around.