(18/08/08) Extraordinary EU summit may be convened over Georgia

French President and EU presidency holder Nicolas Sarkozy has said he is prepared to call an extraordinary EU Council meeting if Russia does not pull out its troops from Georgia "without delay". The retreat is scheduled to begin today (18 August).


On 7 August, Georgian troops invaded the breakaway region of South Ossetia in a move which strikingly resembled recent warnings issued by the International Crisis Group (EurActiv 9/06/08). South Ossetia and Abkhazia are officially part of the territory of Georgia, but are in fact autonomous and largely under Russian influence. South Ossetia and Abkhazia are also referred to as "frozen conflict" zones. Tensions in both regions have been increasing since Kosovo declared independence last February.

Russia responded with massive military action, invading part of Georgia and prompting fears in the West that it may seek to use the occasion to topple Mikheil Saakashvili, the pro-Western Georgian president, and turn Georgia into a vassal state like during Soviet times.

Visiting Moscow and Tbilisi on 12 August, French President Nicolas Sarkozy helped broker a cease-fire agreement which both parties agreed to sign.

In a telephone call, Sarkozy told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that there must be a "withdrawal, without delay, of all the Russian military forces that have entered Georgia since August 7," Sarkozy's office said in a statement, adding that Medvedev had promised to start the pullout today (18 August).

According to the Kremlin, Medvedev told Sarkozy that Russian forces in Georgia will start moving towards South Ossetia and a security zone that roughly coincides with its borders.

In an opinion article in the French daily Le Figaro , Sarkozy warned Medvedev that failure to implement the cease-fire agreement reached on 12 August "would have serious consequences for relations between Russia and the European Union".

Alluding to the prospect of an extraordinary EU Council, the French president also said the Union would need to reassess its relations with Moscow.

"We must also determine if the Russian intervention over its Georgian neighbour was a brutal and excessive response in an isolated case, or if it marks a new hardening in Moscow towards its neighbours and the entire international community," Sarkozy further wrote in his article.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also visisted Tbilisi on Sunday (17 August) and met President Saakashvili. She said the world was watching Russia and described the withdrawal from Georgia as an issue of "credibility".

The position of Saakashvilis's Western allies was also echoed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who told US television that Russia's reputation was "in tatters".

In the meantime, US military sources were quoted by the International Herald Tribune as saying that the Russian military had been moving launchers for short-range ballistic missiles into South Ossetia. From their new positions north of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the SS-21 missiles can reach much of Georgia, including the capital Tbilisi, the sources said.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on 16 August that Russian forces would stay in Georgia as long as they were needed. He said their withdrawal would depend on the introduction of what he termed "additional security measures". He did not explain what those were. "The basic agreements do not determine the ceiling for the peacekeeping contingents," Lavrov said. "How long it will take, I have already emphasised depends not only on us. We are constantly facing problems created by the Georgian side."

US President George W. Bush warned Russia on 16 August not to attempt to pry loose the two separatist regions in Georgia. He added that Moscow must end military operations in the Western-leaning democracy, which was once part of the Soviet empire. Bush told reporters at his Texas ranch that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's signing of a cease-fire plan with Georgia was "a hopeful step". But Russia's vision of Georgia without the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was a non-starter, the president said. "These regions are a part of Georgia, and the international community has repeatedly made clear that they will remain so," Bush said. "There's no room for debate on this matter," he added.

According to the Finnish chairman of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Alexander Stubb , the organisation will meet on Monday (18 August) to discuss a plan to send 100 extra observers to Georgia.


Member states

President of the French Republic: Lettre de M. Le Président de la République concernant la situation en Géorgieexternal
President of the French Republic: Entretien téléphonique avec le Président Medvedevexternal
President of the French Republic: Communiqué concernant la situation en Géorgie après signature d'accord de cessez-le-feuexternal
President of the French Republic: Communiqué suite à la signature par le Président géorgien Mikhaïl Saakachvili de l’accord de cessez-le-feuexternal
Press articles

Le Figaro: La Russie doit se retirer sans délai de Géorgieexternal
AP: Sarkozy demands that Russia comply with cease fireexternal
AFP: Russia due to start pullout of combat troops from Georgiaexternal
IHT: Pledging to leave Georgia, Russia instead tightens gripexternal
FT: Western leaders close ranks on Georgiaexternal

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