UNOMIG, RIP: The curtain finally falls on a side-show
By: Vladimir Socor
On June 16 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon saw himself compelled to order the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) to cease operations immediately, after 16 years of existence (Secretary-General's office press release, June 16). That same day (late on July 15 New York time) in the U.N. Security Council, Russia had just vetoed a Western-initiated resolution to renew UNOMIG's mandate.
UNOMIG ended its existence in the same way it had begun 16 years ago: as a somewhat farcical side-show to the larger farce that had been Russia's "peacekeeping" operation in Abkhazia, Georgia. With Russia turning overtly from "peacekeeper" into invader and occupier after August 2008, UNOMIG's days were numbered and have now come to a close.
UNOMIG's mandate was subject to routine prolongation by U.N. Security Council resolutions at six-month intervals during all these years. Russia exploited this procedure to extract a semblance of international legitimacy for its own "peacekeeping" operation. Under implicit threats to veto UNOMIG's prolongation, Moscow introduced expressions of praise for Russian "peacekeeping" in the Security Council's resolutions in recent years. Western countries could have resisted but played along, on the logic that UNOMIG's presence -even as a minor accompaniment to the Russian operation- was better than no international presence at all.
Thus the U.N. Security Council routinely praised every six months a "peacekeeping" operation that did not meet any of the U.N.'s own standards for peacekeeping. Year after year, Moscow quoted those U.N. accolades as an argument to reject Georgia's calls for internationalization of the Russian "peacekeeping." When Georgia considered exercising its sovereign right to demand the withdrawal of those troops, top U.N. authorities as well as Western governments warned that UNOMIG would also withdraw in that case, its mandate and presence being linked with the Russian operation. On the logic that "even UNOMIG is better than nothing at all," Georgia was pressured into retracting that demand on several occasions in recent years. The alternative would have been to face Russia across the Inguri River one-on-one.
Russia's occupation and "recognition" of Abkhazia (and South Ossetia) has marked the termination of Russian "peacekeeping," and consequently of UNOMIG's mandate, in Moscow's view. Russia is also poised to kill the OSCE's field presence in South Ossetia through using its veto at the OSCE. Commenting on the veto in the U.N. Security Council, Russia's U.N. permanent representative Vitaly Churkin said, "There is no sense in prolonging it [the UNOMIG's mandate] because it is based on the old realities," ignoring the "new political and legal conditions" (Interfax, June 17) -that is, the spoils of Russia's August war.