Monday, August 18, 2008

Russia must leave Georgia immediately

Monday, August 18, 2008

In The Figaro, the head of state affirms that he will convene a special European council meeting if the ceasefire is not quickly put in place. (Translation by Bruce Aicree of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner)

By Nicolas Sarkozy

The moment will come when facts and responsibilities will be established in an incontrovertible way: the weeks of provocation and skirmishes all along the South Ossetian border; the rash Georgian military intervention inside the separatist province during the nights of the seventh and eighth of August; the brutal and disproportionate response by Russian troops against the small army of Georgian soldiers in South Ossetia; the ouster of Abkhazia, the other separatist province in which Georgia had retaken a foothold in 2006, before invading the rest of Georgia proper.

In the face of a breakout of violence, the urgency was elsewhere: since the opening of hostilities, France and Europe fully engaged the situation diplomatically. The first priority was to obtain a cease fire, so as to end the suffering of the people and the destruction. Again, it was necessary to create the conditions necessary for its acceptance by both Russia and Georgia. Acting against the advice of many who predicted our failure, we decided, with Bernard Kouchner, to go to Moscow and to Tbilisi on the twelfth of August, armed with propositions to convince the Russians that it was time to silence the artillery and to convince the Georgians that they still had much more to lose if they pursued all-out war. The long talks that we had with D. Medvedev and V. Putin during our day at the Kremlin then with M. Saakashvili during our night in Tbilisi finally permitted us to broker a six-part deal to end the crisis.

This plan did not settle every issue – that was not its purpose. It did, however, sell the parties on the ceasefire. The signatures of Presidents Medvedev and Saakashvili, as well as my own in the name of the EU, permits the withdrawal of Russian troops to their pre-invasion positions, in accordance with assurances given to me by President Medvedev.

The withdrawal must be executed without delay. This point, in my eyes, is non-negotiable. It must include all Russian forces that entered into Georgia on or after August 7. If this clause of the ceasefire agreement is not rapidly and totally respected, I will be forced to convene a special session of the European Council to decide on the consequences for Russia.

Beyond the withdrawal, much remains to be done to stabilize the situation on a permanent basis. A Security Council resolution would need to consolidate the first gains while giving them the necessary judicial force. An international police operation will need to be put in place to separate the involved parties and verify that they fulfill their promises. The international community will need to be mobilized to come to the aid of the displaced populations and refugees and to aid Georgia in rebuilding after the destruction inflicted by this disaster. We must also determine if the Russian intervention against neighboring Georgia constitutes a brutal and excessive response, in this particular case, or if this constitutes a toughening stance for Moscow vis-à-vis its neighbors and the entire international community, which would invariably bring consequences for Russia’s relations with the EU. Russia must accept that it will be more respected and listened to if it brings responsible and constructive contributions to the problems of our time.

But there is already a lesson to be learned from this crisis: that the EU rose to the challenge. Europe was on the front lines from the moment hostilities opened to resolve this conflict on European soil, only the third since the fall of the Berlin wall, after the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and Kosovo at the end of that decade. In its first phase of handling this crisis, Europe’s engagement was decisive: it is the Union, including France, that opened a space for diplomacy in quickly proposing reasonable terms for a ceasefire, rendering exorbitant the political cost of pursuing war. If our efforts produced results, it is because Europe – despite some differences in tone – did not limit itself to condemnation alone. In choosing action and negotiation over invocation and simple denunciation, Europe could reestablish a positive relationship with Russia and make itself heard. When a house burns, the priority is to put out the fire. Europe proved that it could when armed with a strong political will.

A second lesson deserves being revisited: if the Lisbon treaty currently in the process of ratification was already in force, the EU would have already had the institutions that it needs to face an international crisis: a stable president of the European council acting in concert with the heads of state of the European countries with the most at stake; a high-ranking official equipped with real diplomatic power and the financial means to assure, along with the EU member nations, the execution of decisions we make.

Therefore, I remain convinced that the first mission of Europe is to protect Europeans. What we did was good: we executed a plan to end a new conflict, one whose consequences could have been catastrophic had it had turned out to be a harbinger of a new cold war.

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