EU May Play Key Role in Moscow-Tbilisi Relations: International Crisis Group

Azerbaijan, Baku, 5 August / Trend corr. A.Gasimova/ Director of the Europe programme at the International Crisis Group Sabine Freizer believes EU may play a key role to improve the relations between Moscow and Tbilisi.

"It will be extremely difficult to reach an agreement without the assistance of outside facilitators. The EU can play a key role in trying to improve dialogue between Moscow and Tbilisi," Freizer said to Trend on 5 August.

The situation in the South Ossetia conflict area rapidly deteriorated last week. In the early morning of 2 August, a skirmish in the conflict area left six dead. Tbilisi says it was South Ossetia to commence the fire and Georgia just retaliated. Peace keeping forces in South Ossetia (Russian servicemen) said the skirmish was provoked by Georgian side.

According to Freizer, first and foremost the EU needs to make clear to the Georgian side that if there is a resumption of war, Georgia will lose all the sympathy that it currently enjoys in western capitals. " The EU also needs to engage more firmly with Russia on Georgia related issues, and make Moscow understand that the South Caucasus are just as much part of the EU's neighbourhood as they are part of Russia's near abroad. Any security threat in Georgia is a threat to the whole EU," she said.

Freizer said the EU can assist by relaying these political messages and also continuing on the other hand to encourage Georgia to reach out to the Abkhaz (and Ossetians) by providing funds for confidence building, rehabilitation, and reconstruction assistance. "Ultimately the EU could play a more direct role in helping the Georgians and Abkhaz set up a free economic zone for example, or restarting sea based trade between Abkhazia and the rest of the world," said Freizer.

"Tensions between Georgia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia need to subside. But on the other hand Tbilisi itself also can re-engage more seriously with the Abkhaz and South Ossetians to reduce distrust and fear. They need to treat the Abkhaz and the South Ossetians as partners and stop talking past them in an attempt to reach Moscow," she said.

Freizer said it is of course extremely positive that Germany and the European Union in general are taking a bigger interest in the Georgian conflicts. "The German three step plan was a good platform to re-launch dialogue when the Georgians and Abkhaz had refused to talk for a long time. However it is essential for Germany to remain engaged and for its effort to be supported by other big EU member states," said Freizer.

"France's foreign minister Kouchner expects to travel to Georgia soon and it will be a good opportunity for him to follow up with the German plan - which is actually a Group of Friends plan. The EU needs to have a united approach if it wants to be effective," said Freizer.

After the split of USSR, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two autonomies within the Georgian SSR, proclaimed independence. As a result of an armed conflict, official Tbilisi lost control over the territory. Fruitless peace negotiations are underway. Tbilisi offers to the two regions the broad autonomy status within Georgia, but separatists do not agree.

The correspondent can be contacted at trend@trend.az

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