09TBILISI1132, GEORGIA: POTENTIAL IMPACT OF UNOMIG CLOSURE

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09TBILISI1132 2009-06-19 13:46 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tbilisi

VZCZCXRO4161
OO RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHSI #1132/01 1701346
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 191346Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TBILISI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1772
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING IMMEDIATE 0250
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK IMMEDIATE 4870

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TBILISI 001132 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/19/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV MOPS RS GG
SUBJECT: GEORGIA: POTENTIAL IMPACT OF UNOMIG CLOSURE 
 
REF: A. TBILISI 511 
     B. TBILISI 1078 
     C. TBILISI 1073 
     D. TBILISI 322 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft for Reasons 1.4(b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary and comment.  Russia's veto of a technical 
rollover of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia leaves a 
significant gap in both transparency of the military 
situation in Abkhazia and protection of its residents, 
especially those in the Gali region.  Nevertheless, the 
actual impact may be less than some fear, at least in the 
short term.  Georgian officials believe UNOMIG was so weak 
that it provided little transparency or protection anyway. 
Other UN elements plan to continue operating in Abkhazia, as 
do other international partners, so the outside world will 
still have some perspective -- more than in South Ossetia. 
One tangible loss is the international community's ability to 
cite objective and authoritative information on Russian and 
Abkhaz military movements inside Abkhazia.  One possible 
silver lining is Abkhaz de facto willingness to engage; the 
de facto authorities seemed sincere in their expressed 
interest in UNOMIG's continued presence, and they may be more 
open to other forms of international engagement to avoid 
losing too much leverage against the Russians.  End summary 
and comment. 
 
WHAT WE LOST . . . 
 
2. (SBU) UNOMIG maintained about 130 military monitors on 
both sides of the Abkhaz administrative boundary, based in 
Zugdidi and Gali.  They conducted daily patrols along the 
boundary, as well as patrols into the Kodori Valley once a 
month or so.  Although their freedom of movement was 
significantly reduced in the months following the 
Russia-Georgia war, with both Russian and Abkhaz units 
frequently refusing them access to specific sites or villages 
inside Abkhazia, they were able to observe and document 
significant movements by Russian, Abkhaz and Georgian forces 
on both sides of the boundary.  In the months since UNSCR 
1866 passed in February 2009, for example, UNOMIG monitors 
documented numerous instances of "non-respect of 1866" on 
both sides of the boundary, including in particular the 
presence of tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft systems, and 
armored personnel carriers on the Russian/Abkhaz side (ref 
A).  The same monitors were able to investigate reported 
incidents of violence or human rights violations, such as 
kidnappings; although they had no authority to take any 
administrative or punitive actions, they could issue 
findings.  In most cases, however, they were unable to gather 
enough evidence to reach any firm conclusions. 
 
3. (SBU) Attached to UNOMIG were a Human Rights Office in 
Abkhazia, Georgia (HROAG) and a contingent of UN police 
officers (UNPOL) based in both Sukhumi and Zugdidi.  These 
officers conducted investigations on the overall human rights 
and law enforcement environment in the conflict zone and 
helped investigate specific allegations or incidents; UNPOL 
often took over incident investigations initiated by the 
military monitors.  As with investigations conducted by the 
military monitors, the UN human rights and police officers 
often had difficulty accumulating enough evidence to reach 
firm conclusions.  Nevertheless, they were able to identify 
and document many key issues and concerns in Abkhazia. 
 
4. (C) Beyond their specific mandate, UNOMIG personnel played 
a huge role in facilitating contact between the de facto 
Qa huge role in facilitating contact between the de facto 
authorities and the international community.  Embassy 
travelers, for example, submitted requests for permission 
from the de facto authorities to enter Abkhazia through 
UNOMIG, and then traveled in UNOMIG aircraft and vehicles in 
and out of Abkhazia.  UNOMIG personnel arranged itineraries 
for travelers and served to facilitate those meetings, even 
providing local transportation and interpretation services. 
Finally, UNOMIG personnel could intercede with de facto 
officials, offering a useful channel for sending informal 
messages back and forth. 
 
5. (C) The Secretary General's Special Representative (SRSG) 
Johan Verbeke has suggested that the major loss associated 
with the closure of UNOMIG is the reduction in the level of 
attention the international community will give the conflict 
over time (ref B).  In his view, Russia wanted to shut down 
UNOMIG in order to convey to the world that the conflict was 
resolved.  Although the EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) 
currently remains in Georgia as a way to remind the 
international community of the conflict, Verbeke thought that 
the EUMM would eventually leave as well (and perhaps in the 
 
TBILISI 00001132  002 OF 002 
 
 
not-too-distant future), thus leaving Georgia to fend for 
itself. 
 
. . .
OR DID WE? 
 
6. (C) Georgian officials, including Foreign Minister Grigol 
Vashadze, have downplayed the real impact of UNOMIG's 
departure (ref C).   They argue that the limits placed on 
UNOMIG's freedom of movement, combined with general timidity 
in the face of Russian pressure, prevented the monitors from 
imposing any significant check on Russian and Abkhaz 
behavior.  Although they would generally admit that having 
UNOMIG in place was better than not having UNOMIG, they did 
not think making any compromises on key principles, such as 
international affirmation of Georgia's territorial integrity, 
was worth the tangible benefit UNOMIG brought on the ground. 
When asked about the possibility of a new flood of internally 
displaced persons (IDPs) departing Gali, a scenario that some 
predict (ref D), Deputy Minister of Reintegration David 
Rakviashvili told poloff he thought it unlikely, at least in 
the short term, as did Director of the Ministry of Internal 
Affairs' Analytic Department Shota Utiashvili. 
 
7. (C) Although UNOMIG is closing, other UN elements will 
remain in Georgia, including in Abkhazia.  In particular, 
UNHCR, which maintains one expatriate staff member in 
Abkhazia and others in Tbilisi who travel regularly to 
Abkhazia, will continue to operate.  A UNHCR staff member 
told poloff that the Abkhaz want them to stay, and will 
therefore be motivated to ensure their continuing ability to 
transit the administrative boundary, which is now 
administered in part by Russian border guards.  It is not yet 
clear, however, to what extent this considerably smaller UN 
presence will be in a position to take over UNOMIG's informal 
role as travel and communications facilitator for other 
international partners.  Other international partners, 
including a number of EU-funded NGOs and assistance 
providers, plan to continue their involvement as well. 
 
COMMENT: A NEW CHALLENGE -- A NEW OPPORTUNITY? 
 
8. (C) Despite the government's protestations, it seems to 
post that the presence of a sizable UN presence in Abkhazia, 
in particular in Gali, did act as a significant restraint on 
Russian and Abkhaz forces.  On the security side, if the 
Russians or Abkhaz were considering any major military 
actions, they had to make a conscious decision that the 
international attention they would face was worth the 
potential gains.  On the human rights side, local residents 
themselves testified that UNOMIG's presence was the only 
factor restraining the Russians and Abkhaz from wholesale 
persecution, and that they would leave if UNOMIG ever did. 
To some extent, many of the human rights abuses in Gali stem 
from the lawless nature of the environment there, which the 
de facto authorities tolerate, but do not necessarily 
initiate; thus many of the concerns will exist whether the UN 
is present or not.  Nevertheless, the Russians and Abkhaz 
will have fewer people watching now, so there will be one 
less reason to hold back on passportization, exclusion of 
Georgian language from schools, and so on.  Perhaps the 
single most significant loss Georgia and the international 
community have suffered is a major reduction in our 
visibility on the situation in Abkhazia, which will make it 
difficult to determine whether things rapidly deteriorate or 
not.  It will therefore be all the more important to maintain 
Qnot.  It will therefore be all the more important to maintain 
pressure on the Russians and the Abkhaz to prevent human 
rights abuses and to allow access for humanitarian 
organizations. 
 
9. (C) For a similar reason, however -- for fear that the 
Russians will have free rein in pursuing their own interests 
in Abkhazia -- it is possible that the Abkhaz could become 
more open to engagement.  Abkhaz de facto officials have 
consistently maintained in both public and private they 
supported the UN's presence in Abkhazia, and post believes 
they were sincere in that position.  Even their insistence on 
the removal of language about Georgia's territorial integrity 
from UN resolutions, which is the factor that ultimately 
convinced Russia to veto the latest resolution, may have been 
to some extent a political pose.  A recent American visitor 
to Abkhazia, who has been traveling there for 30 years, 
reported that her well-connected Abkhaz contacts were 
unpleasantly surprised by the death of UNOMIG.  With the 
impending departure of by far the largest international 
presence in Abkhazia -- the one that enabled the presence of 
many others -- the Abkhaz may be forced to consider 
increasing their flexibility in accepting visitors that do 
not accept the concept of Abkhaz "territorial integrity." 
TEFFT

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