War in Georgia exposed S. Caucasus countries’ vulnerability, Semneby

WPS Agency, Russia
November 13, 2009 Friday


by Olga Allenova

SOUTH CAUCASUS; An interview with Peter Semneby, EU Special
Representative for the South Caucasus.

Another round of the Caucasus security talks in Geneva, Switzerland,
will be the first following publication of the report on the war in
South Ossetia drawn by a special EU Commission. Here is an interview
with Peter Semneby, EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus,
on what disturbs the European Union in the region, why Moscow and
Tbilisi differ in their interpretations of the report, and what effect
recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russia may have on
Nagorno-Karabakh conflict resolution efforts.

Question: It is going to be the eighth round of the consultations but
the process is essentially fruitless. Why would the EU attach all this
importance to this format then?

Peter Semneby: No, I wouldn’t call it fruitless. Seven meetings took
place, each attended by high-ranking representatives of all involved
parties. It is an important accomplishment in itself. As for the
results, the consultations did set up incident prevention mechanisms,
didn’t they? Granted that it was not much in terms of the expected
breakthrough… even small steps lead us to the desired objective. I
do not even like to think about what it would have been without this
forum or without observers in the area. Any incident would have been
capable of sparking new escalation.

Question: Do you think the report drawn by Heidi Tagliavini Commission
will have any effect on the nature of the talks in Geneva?

Peter Semneby: What really counts, I believe, is that this report
enabled us to finally stop looking over our shoulders and start
looking forward. The report shed light on what had happened. It is a
lesson for all of us to keep in mind.

Question: The report in question was supposed to put an end to the
debates over who had begun the war in South Ossetia. The document
states that Georgia began the war. Official Tbilisi in the meantime
makes an emphasis on the part of the report that covers the pre-war
period, one which states that Russia did its part to abet escalation
of tension too. How do you find these differences in interpretations?

Peter Semneby: It’s hardly surprising. After all, these two countries
were at war and not that long ago.

The report analyzes the following periods: before the war, its
beginning, the war as such, and post-war. That all involved parties
disagree over their interpretation is something to be expected. Why
focus attention on August 7 and 8? It all began long before that. The
matter concerns the relations between Georgia and minorities on the
one hand and between Georgia and Russia on the other. Escalation
lasted at least a year before the outbreak of the war. Remember how a
Russian missile fell in Georgia? Tension all over the region literally
soared then.

Question: What consequences of the report shall we expect then?

Peter Semneby: No need to talk about consequences because punishing
anyone is not what the report is about or for. The EU Commission ran
this investigation to enable the international community to know what
had happened and concentrate on negotiation of the consequences of the
conflict. We are talking the lessons we hope the involved parties

Question: And what lessons are they? What did the European Union
learn? Had it been possible for the European Union to prevent the war?

Peter Semneby: Regrettably, the European Union did underestimate the
risks. It could have done more for prevention of the conflict. Had our
presence in the region been more impressive, it would have played its
part, I think.

Question: EU observers are restricted to Georgia alone, these days.
They are not permitted in Abkhazia or South Ossetia. Does the EU think
that this state of affairs impairs its ability to influence the
situation in general?

Peter Semneby: Yes, presence of our observers over there is
preferable. We hope that they understand now that the European Union
is only playing a thoroughly stabilizing role in the region. Or that
its capacities are not exhausted at all.

Question: Some experts say that another Russian-Georgian war is at
least a possibility…

Peter Semneby: That’s why we have observers in Georgia. That’s why we
attach importance to the talks in Geneva.

Question: The current activization of the dialogue between Armenia and
Turkey… Do you think the border between these two countries will be
opened before a solution to the Karabakh problem is found?

Peter Semneby: This opening of the border between Turkey and Armenia
will bring the region a step closer to normalization of a definitely
abnormal situation when three longest borders in it are closed. I mean
the borders between Armenia and Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and
Russia and Georgia.

The Armenian-Turkish relations have reached the threshold of a much
needed breakthrough. Process of ratification will be difficult of
course, but ratification is in the interests of Armenia and Turkey
alike. I’m even convinced that it is in the interests of Azerbaijan
too, or will be in the long run, because the opening of the borders in
the region will benefit all countries including Azerbaijan. The war in
Georgia exposed vulnerability of all countries of the South Caucasus.
Solution to all these problems will do away with this vulnerability. I
have no doubts that this is how the Armenian leadership sees it. I do
not doubt that Armenia understands that the status quo in the matter
of Nagorno-Karabakh is not in its interests… nor that it will remain
unchanged forever.

What we need throughout the Caucasus is trust. And trust is not to be
reestablished without activeness on the part of the third parties like
the European Union and Russia.

Question: And yet, recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Russia
set a precedent that complicates the solution to the problem of
Karabakh the European Union has been promoting.

Peter Semneby: Do not make the mistake of exaggerating parallels
between these conflicts. Of course, it’s quite problematic and
unacceptable for us that Russia recognized these territories as
sovereign states. It requires some serious and complicated talks yet,
talks with Russia included. In any event, we have common priorities in
other spheres which means that no disagreement between the European
Union and Russia over Georgia is supposed to interfere with our
conflict resolution efforts elsewhere.

Source: Kommersant, November 10, 2009, p. 8