EU observers ask to stay in Georgia as Russia digs in

Brussels – The European Union should be ready to keep some 250 observers in Georgia’s war-torn areas far beyond the autumn as Russia is blocking other international missions, the head of the EU observation team warned Thursday. At a meeting with EU ambassadors on Wednesday, Haber “recommended that the EU extend our mandate in September to take account of the uncertainty over the mandates of the other missions,” he said. 

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) to Georgia was mandated in September and deployed in October to monitor the fragile ceasefire between Russia, Georgia and Georgia’s breakaway territories which was concluded after their August war.

EU member states had originally intended it as a temporary force which would stabilize the region so that long-term observation missions from the United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could return to work.

But Russia’s decision to recognize the breakaway entities, and its refusal to extend the mandate of either the OSCE or the UN mission unless they accept that recognition, means that EUMM could have to stay for much longer.

“If indeed after June we have no more UN or OSCE mission, then Georgia’s need (for security) will concentrate on EUMM … There should be one element of stability in the form of an international presence on the ground, and therefore we could not consider phasing out EUMM at this point in time,” Haber said.

Haber said that the situation on the ground had stabilized over the winter, with the last fatality recorded in January.

But he warned that Russia had repeatedly accused Georgia of breaching the ceasefire and abusing ethnic minorities – accusations for which the observation mission found no evidence.

“So far, in each individual case we have been able to refute these claims,” Haber said.

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