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CAUCASUS UPDATE

In this section, we publish the weekly analysis of the major events taking place in the Caucasus and beyond. The Caucasus Update is written by our Senior Editor Alexander Jackson. Click here to subscribe.

Recently, there has been a wave of arrests in the border region between Georgia and its rebel provinces of Abkhazia and – particularly – South Ossetia. In most instances, Georgian citizens have been arrested around the border line by Russian servicemen or separatist troops. Most have been accused of illegal trespassing and subsequently released, but some have been charged with more serious crimes and have not, to date, been freed. Georgia has responded in kind, arresting Russian and local civilians it claims have strayed over the boundary line (Civil.ge, November 25).

The case which has caused most international criticism is the arrest of four Georgian teenagers, aged 14 to 17, and charged with carrying grenades and other explosives (RFE/RL, November 11). The boys were taken into custody on November 7 by South Ossetian soldiers, and have not yet been released. There has been no information released to substantiate the claims.

Incidents have continued throughout October and November, and led to the dispatching of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, on November 27. Ironically, Mr Hammarberg was initially refused entry to South Ossetia by the authorities in Tskhinvali (Messenger.ge, November 30). The Georgian authorities expressed frustration with the Council of Europe, warning that the case of the four detained teenagers was a ‘test’ for the organisation’s commitment to human rights.

The arrests - or kidnappings, depending on one’s point of view – seem to have replaced exchanges of gunfire and shelling that shook the ceasefire in the approximate year between the Russia-Georgia war and August 2009. They are significant for three reasons.

Firstly, and most obviously, are the continued limitations of the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM). The observers were unable to stop the occasional rounds of combat last year, and now they have proven unable to stop the kidnappings.

Partly this reflects their restricted presence: there are 242 monitors, a far more impressive number than the now-defunct OSCE and UN missions fielded in the rebel regions but clearly insufficient to observe, report and prevent abductions by either side. Partly, this reflects their limited mandate. They are still blocked from accessing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, making attempts to report on Georgian prisoners impossible. By contrast, Georgia’s handovers of Russian civilians have been closely overseen by EUMM staff.

Similarly, the Incident Prevention and Reaction Mechanism (IPRM), a series of regular meetings held in Geneva, is clearly failing to live up to its name. Some detainees have been returned after dialogue in the IPRM, but others clearly have not. The decision to return or keep detainees is made in Tskhinvali, Sukhumi, or Moscow. Lack of access there makes the EUMM powerless to influence the separatists. In any case, at times the rebel authorities have simply refused to show up to the IPRM, as South Ossetian representatives did on November 19 (EUMM, November 18). The IPRM has, to date, achieved little.

Secondly, the kidnappings show the increased desire by civilians on both sides to return to what they consider their homes and lands. South Ossetia has seen more abductions because, unlike Abkhazia, it was a patchwork of Georgian and Ossetian villages before the war. Some which were ethnically and administratively Georgian were simply annexed by Russia, and the lack of a clear demarcated border makes it impossible for villagers - herding animals or collecting firewood – to identify the boundary.

This desire for normality by villagers shows that the humanitarian aspects of the conflict seriously need to be addressed. The lack of a clear boundary serves the political purposes of both sides, allowing Georgia to keep open the option of ‘reintegrating’ the territories, and allowing Russia and the separatists to create a sense of uncertainty amongst villagers who previously lived in the border zones, cementing their removal and preserving the ethnic makeup of the two territories.

Thirdly, the fact that shooting incidents have been almost entirely replaced by arrests is worth commenting on. It seems that Russia, in particular, has realised that exchanges of gunfire are inflammatory, and create the risk of fatalities which would require a response. Arrests and abductions, particularly of civilians alleged to be carrying explosives, allow Moscow to continue its rhetoric of a ‘terrorist’ Georgia which is rearming, without going to the political trouble of provoking serious clashes (RFE/RL, November 5). This should keep up the international and domestic pressure on Tbilisi without raising the risks.

This, in turn, suggests that Georgia is becoming less of a priority for Russian policymakers, who are cautiously probing the possibility of a new relationship with Brussels and Washington. Continuing to support separatist forces who are engaging in regular gunbattles with NATO aspirant’s soldiers would not be the best introduction for Russia’s recent draft European security strategy, which seeks to supersede the OSCE and NATO itself (AFP, November 29). Small-scale irritations to President Saakashvili are enough, for now.



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PREVIOUS ISSUES

  Caspian Compromise Backfires for Russia and Iran, CU Issue 83, November 24, 2010
  Turkey in a Tight Spot on Missile Defense, CU Issue 82, November 11, 2010
  The OSCE and Kyrgyzstan’s Election, CU Issue 81, October 30, 2010
  Unblocking the US-Azerbaijan Relationship, CU Issue 80, October 07, 2010
  Nabucco Pipeline: Quo Vadis?, CU Issue 79, September 30, 2010
  Russia tightens its grip in the South Caucasus, CU Issue 78, August 23, 2010
  Armenian Politics: Rigidity Versus Flexibility, CU Issue 77, August 10, 2010
  Russia and Georgia: Ready To Talk?, CU Issue 76, July 21, 2010
  Can the US walk and chew gum at the same time?, CU Issue 75, July 9, 2010
  The Kyrgyzstan Crisis – A Qualified Success for Turkish Diplomacy?, CU Issue 74, June 24, 2010
  Brussels downgrades the Caucasus, CU Issue 73, June 07, 2010
  NATO’s New Strategic Concept and the Caspian Region, CU Issue 72, June 01, 2010
  Joe Biden and European Security, CU Issue 71, May 13, 2010
  Behind the US-Azerbaijan row, CU Issue 70, May 6, 2010
  Turkey and Iran: The risks of failure, CU Issue 69, April 30, 2010
  Kazakhstan, the OSCE, and the crisis in Kyrgyzstan, CU Issue 68, April 19, 2010
  The Implications of the Moscow Bombings, CU Issue 67, April 12, 2010
  Iran Manoeuvres for a role in Karabakh, CU Issue 66, April 5, 2010
  The EU and Abkhazia: Between a rock and a hard place, CU Issue 65, March 16, 2010
  Fallout from the US ‘Genocide’ vote, CU Issue 64, March 9, 2010
  Ukraine's elections and future of GUAM, CU Issue 63, February 10, 2010
  Less Democracy, More Security: Kazakhstan and the OSCE, CU Issue 62, January 18, 2010
  Tackling the North Caucasus Insurgency: Development or Rhetoric?, CU Issue 61, January 11, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 60, January 4, 2010
  The Caspian Region in 2010, CU Issue 59, December 31, 2009
  The Turkmenistan-China Pipeline Changes the Energy Balance, CU Issue 58, December 21, 2009
  Russia’s European Security Treaty, CU Issue 57, December 7, 2009
  The ‘Kidnapping War’ in Georgia and its Implications, CU Issue 56, December 3, 2009
  Azerbaijan Shifts its Energy Priorities, CU Issue 55, November 23, 2009
  The South Caucasian States and Afghanistan, CU Issue 54, November 11, 2009
  Is Turkey turning East?, CU Issue 53, November 2, 2009
  What is Russia’s Gameplan for Iran?, CU Issue 52, October 26, 2009
  Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan: Where Next?, CU Issue 51, October 19, 2009
  The Armenians of Georgia: A New Flashpoint in the Caucasus?, CU Issue 50, October 12, 2009
  Turkey’s EU Membership: Will The ‘Armenian Opening’ Help?, CU Issue 49, October 5, 2009
  The Missile Defence Shift: Implications for the Caucasus, CU Issue 48, September 22, 2009
  Rising Tensions in the Black Sea , CU Issue 47, September 14, 2009
  Armenia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan: The Clock Is Ticking, CU Issue 46, September 7, 2009
  The Battle of the Bases in Central Asia, CU Issue 45, August 31, 2009
  Russia, Israel, and the S-300s, CU Issue 44, August 24, 2009
  The motivations behind Turkey's 'Kurdish Initiative', CU Issue 43, August 17, 2009
  The Implications of the Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan Dispute, CU Issue 42, August 10, 2009
  What has changed since the August war?, CU Issue 41, August 3, 2009
  The Internal Dynamics of Armenia’s Karabakh Policy, CU Issue 40, July 20, 2009
  Gazprom’s Baku Triumph, CU Issue 39, July 06, 2009
  Ingushetia: The New Chechnya?, CU Issue 38, June 29, 2009
  Georgias Economy - A Matter for Diplomats, CU Issue 37, June 22, 2009
  ‘Progress’ In The Nagorno-Karabakh Peace Process, CU Issue 36, June 08, 2009
  Iran's Azerbaijanis and the presidential election, CU Issue 35, June 01, 2009
  Nabucco and South Stream - The Race Heats Up, CU Issue 34, May 25, 2009
  China and Central Asia, CU Issue 33, May 19, 2009
  Russia, Georgia, and NATO - A Bad Week, CU Issue 32, May 11, 2009
  The Obama Administration’s Emerging Caucasus Policy, CU Issue 31, April 27, 2009
  Integration and Division in the Caspian Sea, CU Issue 30, April 20, 2009
  The Turkish-Armenian Rapprochement - Implications for the South Caucasus, CU Issue 29, April 13, 2009
  Turkey's local elections and Armenian issue, CU Issue 28, April 6, 2009
  Is There Life Left In The Nabucco Project?, CU Issue 27, March 30, 2009
  Problems and Prospects for Russian Military Reform, CU Issue 26, March 23, 2009
  Russia and Georgia: Not back to war, CU Issue 25, March 16, 2009
  Armenia: Heading towards crisis?, CU Issue 24, March 9, 2009
  Drug trafficking in the Caucasus, CU Issue 23, February 23, 2009
  Russian-led military block: A real counterweight to NATO?, CU Issue 22, February 16, 2009
  Are the International Missions in Georgia still relevant?, CU Issue 21, February 9, 2009
  Israel and Azerbaijan: Baku’s Balancing Act, CU Issue 20, February 2, 2009
  The North Caucasus in 2009: A Bleak Forecast, CU Issue 19, January 26, 2009
  The Military Balance in Nagorno-Karabakh, CU Issue 18, January 19, 2009
  Russia, Iran, and Barack Obama in 2009, Part II, CU Issue 17, January 12, 2009
  Looking forward to 2009 in the Caucasus and beyond, Part I, CU Issue 16, January 5, 2009
  The opportunities and the risks of NATO’s new supply routes, CU Issue 15, December 22, 2008
  The Black Sea Ambitions of Armenia, CU Issue 14, December 15, 2008
  Another Small Step for Nabucco, CU Issue 13, December 8, 2008
  Will Saakashvili survive politically?, CU Issue 12, December 1, 2008
  The latest fashion: conflict mediation, CU Issue 11, November 24, 2008
  The Baku Energy Summit, CU Issue 10, November 17, 2008
  Obama and the Caucasus, CU Issue 9, November 10, 2008
  Kazakhstan's oil options, CU Issue 8, November 3, 2008
  Is the Minsk Group being sidelined?, CU Issue 7, October 27, 2008
  Gas and oil developments in the Caspian region, CU Issue 6, October 20, 2008
  Where next for the Georgian peace process?, CU Issue 5, October 8, 2008
  Unrest in the North Caucasus, CU Issue 4, September 29, 2008
  Saakashvili's future, CU Issue 3, September 22, 2008
  Iran after the Georgian War, CU Issue 2, September 15, 2008
  Football diplomacy, CU Issue 1, September 8, 2008
       
 
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