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UN Could Have Done More in Georgia-Russia Conflict
Last week's Security Council meeting failed to foster needed communication
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2008-08-13 05:27 (KST)   
On Thursday evening, Aug. 7, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitalii Churkin, arrived for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council with a request. A letter he submitted to the Council (S/2008/533) asked that a meeting be held to discuss events taking place in Georgia.

The members of the Security Council gathered and decided to hold consultations. The consultations were held in a closed-door session. It was not until early in the morning on Friday, Aug. 8, that a public meeting of the Security Council was convened.

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The meeting was convened around 1 a.m.

In his statement to the members of the Security Council, the Russian ambassador described how "literally just a few hours after reaching an agreement on holding negotiations to resolve the escalation in the South Ossetian conflict, Georgian military divisions began a treacherous and massive attack against Tskhinvali, [which is the capital of the South Ossetian province of Georgia]" (S/PV.5951).

According to his available information, the Russian ambassador told the council, "At 3 a.m. local time, Georgian tanks and infantry began to attack the southern parts of Tskhinvali."

The Russian ambassador asked that the Security Council to "immediately call for an end to the hostilities and for a rejection of the use of force" (S/PV.5951 p. 3).

Georgia's ambassador to the UN, Irakli Alasania, spoke next. He did not dispute that the Georgian military had launched an attack against Tskhinvali. Instead, he described what he characterized as "repeated armed provocations" that had led to what was happening, and accused Russia of failing in its obligation to remain neutral as a party to an agreement regarding peacekeeping in the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

The Georgian ambassador also outlined what it saw as its desired elements for the form of government for South Ossetia. (See Wikipedia for background.)

The Security Council began a short public discussion. While the French, British, US, Chinese, Belgian and Croatian delegates noted that the situation was a grave one, it was not possible for the Council to agree to a statement on the matter. These council members remarked about their concern at the escalation of the violence in South Ossetia, and each stated his or her call for the parties to resume negotiations and exercise restraint.

The US delegate to the Security Council, Rosemary DiCarlo, added that she called on all parties "to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Georgia." She also called on Russia not to send troops. The Croatian delegate had a similar response.

The Italian delegate, Aldo Mantovani, affirmed the need for dialogue and negotiations, emphasizing there was a key role to be played by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to settle the conflict. He emphasized the fact that the current situation was not sustainable and that the conflict required attention.

The Vietnamese ambassador, Lee Luong Minh, expressed his country's concern about the rising tensions. He joined the call for restraint and commended Russia's efforts "to de-escalate the tension by sending envoys to the region to restart the negotiation process" toward finding a "mutually acceptable and peaceful solution to the conflict."

The Indonesian ambassador, Marty Natalegawa, recognized that "the potential for further escalation of the violence is real." He called for restraint on the part of the parties, including "from making inflammatory statements."

He stressed the need to have "open lines of communication between the sides at the highest level" in order that "that confidence be established and nurtured." He stressed that only dialogue could lead to the resolution of the conflict, so that open lines of communication along with efforts to end the bloodshed were critical.

He also expressed his delegation's regret that the Council had not issued an agreed upon statement on the situation.

Several of the delegates did not make any public comment, including the delegates from South Africa, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Panama and Libya.

The Russian ambassador responded to what he called "distortions and contradictions" in the statement of the Georgian ambassador.

He asked why the Georgian side had "refused to reach an agreement on the non-use of force in the Georgian-South Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts, which would protect Georgia against any attempt to use force by anyone at all."

The Georgian ambassador responded that he was glad to see high-level efforts on the part of the US and Russia to "ease the tensions and de-escalate the situation. This is exactly what Georgia wants"

The fighting in South Ossetia continued while the meeting was taking place.

Shortly after the failure of the meeting to come to any agreement, Russian military forces entered Georgia and attacked Georgian positions.

Whether there would have been a means for the members of the Security Council to explore more carefully what the two sides required to stop the fighting cannot be known.

This was a significant event. A problem situation was brought to the Security Council. The Security Council was unable to go on record with a statement to call for an end to the hostilities and to the use of force. Some members failed to make any statement at all during the public part of the meeting.

The meeting ended at 2 a.m.

After the meeting there was a stakeout outside of the Security Council for journalists. The Russian ambassador explained that he had brought a short statement to the Council asking for its approval. He reported that council members were willing to call on the parties to the conflict to stop the hostilities but that some of the members would not agree to the renunciation of the use of force, as Russia was asking.

An article reports that after the meeting, the Russian blogosphere actively discussed what had happened at the Security Council meeting. Commenting on the outrage and determination in Ambassador Churkin's remarks, the article explains, "Within minutes of Churkin's speech the Russian blogosphere literally exploded with hundreds of posts expressing the same anger and the same resolve."

Later this month, the Security Council is to take up the issue of the reform of Security Council procedures. Are there lessons from this incident for determining the needed reform?
A version of this article appears on my blog netizenblog.
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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