The limits of international conflict management in the case of Abkhazia and South Ossetia STEfAN WOLff
In August 2008, Georgia and Russia clashed in a five-day war after Georgian troops attempted to assert full control over the breakaway region of South Ossetia, in contravention of a 1992 ceasefire agreement brokered by Russia and policed by Russian troops in the guise of CIS peacekeepers. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, representing the EU Presidency, offered an impressive example of leadership and diplomacy and helped broker a ceasefire between the two countries after five days of fighting. Despite the quick end of military hostilities, the political situation escalated further, culminating in the Russian recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence on 26 August 2008. Sarkozy’s diplomacy not only was that of a political leader who saw an opportunity to leave his mark on the European and global stage but also reflects the significance of unresolved conflicts over statehood issues that date back to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Alongside the conflicts over Transnistria (in Moldova) and Nagorno Karabakh (in Azerbaijan), the two conflicts in Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – are of critical importance, especially to the EU and its member states, as the Union engages with the region through its European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership. The implications of these conflicts over unrecognized states for European and EU security have also been recognized by the EU Security Strategy of 2003 (EUSS), noting that “frozen conflicts, which also persist on our borders, threaten regional stability” (Council of the European Union 2003: 5). The EUSS makes clear that “violent conflict, weak states where organized crime flourishes, dysfunctional societies or exploding population growth on its borders all pose problems for Europe” (ibid.: 7) and goes on to demand very specifically that the Union “should now take a stronger and more active interest in the problems of the Southern Caucasus” (ibid.: 8). The 2008 report on the implementation of the EUSS referred specifically to the conflicts in Georgia, claiming on the one hand that “[s]ince 2003, the EU has increasingly made a difference in addressing crisis and conflict, in places such as . . . Georgia” and pointing out on the other that:
[t]he situation in Georgia, concerning Abkhazia and South Ossetia, has escalated, leading to an armed conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. The EU led the international response, through mediation
between the parties, humanitarian assistance, a civilian monitoring mission, and substantial financial support. Our engagement will continue, with the EU leading the Geneva Process.