5953rd Meeting (AM)
The Security Council today held a third emergency meeting on the situation in South Ossetia, where the conflict was expanding in intensity and geographical scope, hearing briefings by senior United Nations officials and the views of members in an effort to coalesce around a unified position.
Explaining that his Government had requested today's meeting in view of 'the dramatic and dangerous developments of the past 24 hours in and around Georgia', the representative of the United States highlighted intensive Russian military activity in the South Ossetia region and a sharp escalation of military operations against Georgian forces in the conflict zone.
He said the conflict had widened with the launch of a Russian-backed offensive in Georgia's Abkhaz region, preceded by a demand by Abkhazia for the withdrawal of the peacekeeping presence in the Upper Kodori Valley. That area had since been bombed in a direct challenge to a Security Council-mandated Mission, and some Abkhaz officials had stated their intention to drive Georgian officials out of the Valley.
He said the question must be asked: what could the Security Council do to stop the violence and return to the status quo prevailing before 6 August? The Russian Federation claimed its military operations were intended to protect its peacekeepers and civilians in South Ossetia, yet its actions went way beyond that, and its expansion of the conflict to another separatist area of Georgia suggested other motives. The United States urged the Council to ensure adherence to the United Nations Charter and on Russia to consider carefully the implications of its aggression against a sovereign State.
Georgia's representative, whom the United States' delegation requested be allowed to participate in the meeting under a procedural rule of the Council, said it appeared that the Russian leadership had its own justification for an all-out invasion of his country. The international community had heard that the Georgian side had violated existing agreements, and Russia had asserted that it was engaging in peacemaking or peace enforcement. That was absurd; the question was whether Russia was trying to substitute for the Security Council, when in reality it was an aggressor in the conflict.
He said the Georgian leadership had reached out to the Russian political leadership overnight, but unfortunately the President of Russia had refused to engage his Georgian counterpart in dialogue. All Georgian troops had withdrawn from the conflict zone and a humanitarian corridor had been established. During the ceasefire, Georgian forces had been bombed and prevented from full-scale withdrawal. Georgia called on the Security Council -– the highest legitimate authority in the world -– for an immediate intervention to protect it from Russia's ongoing 'aggression and occupation'.
The representative of the Russian Federation recalled that, at the beginning of its aggression against South Ossetia, Georgia's representatives had said his country was beginning a war against South Ossetia and that it was undertaking the re-establishment of constitutional order in the breakaway region by trying to resolve a 50-year-long conflict through military means. Its military action had begun with tank and heavy artillery attacks on Russian peacekeepers, which had resulted in 12 deaths. The Russian Federation wondered whether the term 'ethnic cleansing' could be used to describe Georgia's actions. How many civilians had to die before it was described as genocide?
When others were lamenting the death of civilians in Georgia, why weren't they worried about the attacks on villages in South Ossetia? he asked. How could the international community react when, despite all the international agreements – - Russian peacekeepers were in South Ossetia under the agreement of 1992, signed by Georgia and South Ossetia -– Georgia directly targeted peacekeepers and civilians? Had Georgia expected the peacekeepers to run away as they had in Srebrenica? Russia could not allow either civilians in South Ossetia or peacekeepers to be attacked. It was not occupying South Ossetia, and its reaction had been appropriate. The question was whether the Georgian side was reasonable in its aggression. Russia had repeatedly told Georgia that trying to resolve the situation through military means would be 'suicide' for Georgia.
Turning to the Upper Kodori Valley, he recalled that that his delegation had on many occasions said that Abkhazia should explain its position before the Council. The Russian Federation had drawn attention to the unacceptable situation in the Kodori Valley, 'so why are you surprised now?' The Black Sea fleet had started to patrol the coast and a note to that effect had been sent to the Georgian authorities. The aim was to protect Russian citizens and provide support to peacekeepers and humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in the zone of conflict. The Russian Federation aimed to establish a security zone, not to establish a maritime blockade, in accordance with its right to self-defence under the United Nations Charter.
There was evident agreement among several Council members that the priority was an immediate cessation of hostilities. France's representative called for full respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and restoration of the status quo ante, implying the withdrawal of Russian and Georgian troops to their earlier positions. The Council bore a significant responsibility and the time had come for members to shoulder their responsibility and end a deteriorating situation that would likely have consequences for international peace and security.
Other delegations, including that of Panama, condemned both the decision of the Georgian Government to impose its authority over South Ossetia by force and the disproportionate and illegitimate use of force by the Russian Federation. The Council must immediately express itself in favour of an end to the use of force and a return to the status quo ante, and in support of ongoing diplomatic efforts.
Indonesia's representative stressed the value of a simple and early Council message, unburdened by any consideration other than humanitarian ones, warning that the absence of a 'collective Council voice' must not translate into silence over the humanitarian toll that the conflict was taking. While the inherent dispute over South Ossetia might not be ripe for an instant solution, ultimately, dialogue was the only path. Indonesia found some encouragement, however tenuous, in ongoing diplomatic efforts, which it strongly supported.
Briefing the Council on unfolding events, B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, acknowledged that the United Nations had no first-hand information and was relying largely on media reports for its information. Conflicting reports were circulating as to whether or not Georgian troops were regrouping or withdrawing from South Ossetia. The withdrawal was disputed by Russian military sources, who said that Georgian military units remained in the region and sporadic fighting was continuing.
Early this morning, Russian aircraft had resumed attacks on strategic and military targets outside the zone of conflict, and media had reported ongoing clashes south of Tskhinvali, South Ossetia's capital, he said. The Georgian authorities claimed Russian troops were moving towards Gori in Georgia proper, while Georgian forces had started taking up defensive positions around the city.
In a second briefing, Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the situation in Abkhazia remained 'extremely concerning', with a military build-up on the Abkhaz side and bombings of the town of Gori. 'The Abkhaz side had moved troops and heavy weapons into the zone of conflict, which had initially been prevented by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force. CIS had informed the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) yesterday that it could no longer stop movement into the zone.
As a result of the increase in bombings in the Mission's area of operations, UNOMIG had had to scale down its operations and was now conducting only essential patrols, he said. The Mission had not observed major movements of troops or weapons on the Georgian side and the only actions observed so far had been reinforcements along the ceasefire line. With the exception of the bombings in the Upper Kodori Valley, no direct confrontations appeared to have broken out as yet in UNOMIG's area of operations.
Other speakers today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Italy, Croatia, Viet Nam, Costa Rica, Burkina Faso, Libya and Belgium. The representatives of Georgia, Russian Federation and the United States took the floor engaged in further exchanges as the meeting concluded.
The meeting began at 11:35 a.m. and ended at 1:20 p.m.
B. LYNN PASCOE, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, recalled that the Secretary-General had issued a statement yesterday, in which he had expressed alarm over the escalation of hostilities in South Ossetia and other regions of Georgia. He was particularly concerned about violence spreading to areas outside the zone of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. The Secretary-General was also profoundly concerned about mounting tensions in the Abkhaz zone of conflict, including the bombing of the Upper Kodori Valley and the ongoing military build-up along the security zone. In the context of the announcement by the Abkhaz de facto authorities of a military operation in the Upper Kodori Valley, he had called for the exercise of maximum restraint by all concerned, as well as the guarantee of the safety and security for unarmed United Nations military observers.
He said the Secretary-General had urged all parties immediately to end hostilities and engage, without delay, in negotiations to achieve a peaceful settlement. In that regard, he had welcomed international efforts to assist the parties in resolving the situation. For the success of that endeavour, all armed contingents not authorized by respective agreements in South Ossetia should leave the zone of conflict. The Secretary-General had urged all parties to respect the Charter principle of territorial integrity of States and to refrain from actions that could undermine efforts to settle the long-standing conflicts in Georgia. The Secretary-General had also called for immediate steps to address the humanitarian crisis.
Providing the Council with an update of unfolding events, Mr. Pascoe said the United Nations had no first-hand information from the area of the conflict in South Ossetia and relied largely on media reports. It appeared that most of the Georgian sites were blocked and, therefore, information gathered came mostly from Russian media sources. Over the last few days, there had been a sharp escalation of hostilities in Georgia, which had spread to areas beyond the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. The exact situation in Tskhinvali and other areas of South Ossetia remained difficult to ascertain, due to a lack of United Nations or other international presence on the ground.
Conflicting media reports had were circulating as to whether or not Georgian troops were regrouping or withdrawing from South Ossetia, he continued. In the afternoon, Georgian officials had repeated an earlier announcement that the troops had withdrawn from most of South Ossetia, including Tskhinvali. The Georgian side had denied defeat and said it had to address a humanitarian catastrophe. According to new reports, the withdrawal was disputed by Russian military sources, who said there were still Georgian military units and that sporadic fighting continued. Russian military sources also said there had been no contacts with Georgian military officials.
Media had reported ongoing clashes south of Tskhinvali, he said, adding that the Georgian authorities claimed Russian troops were moving towards Gori in Georgia proper, while Georgian forces had started taking up defensive positions around the city. Interlocutors from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had informed the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) that approximately 2,000 ethnic Georgian internally displaced persons from South Ossetia had arrived in collective centres near Tbilsi and Gori, and many others were staying with relatives. UNHCR expected up to 20,000 internally displaced persons in the final analysis. It believed that 5,000 had crossed into North Ossetia–Alania.
He reported that, early this morning, Russian aircraft had resumed attacks on strategic and military targets outside the zone of conflict, including a military airport with a military aircraft repair factory and a tank repair factory near Tbilisi, the port of Poti and targets near Gori.
EDMOND MULET, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said UNOMIG comprised 136 military observers, 18 police personnel and 311 civilians in different sites. Its key mandated tasks were to monitor and verify implementation of the 1994 ceasefire agreement, contribute to conditions conducive to the return of internally displaced persons and refugees, and promote a political settlement of the conflict.
He said the situation in Abkhazia remained extremely concerning, with a military build-up on the Abkhaz side and bombings of the town of Gori. The Abkhaz side had moved troops and heavy weapons into the zone of conflict, which had initially been prevented by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) peacekeeping force, which had informed UNOMIG yesterday that it could no longer stop movement into the zone. UNOMIG had confirmed that CIS peacekeepers had not attempted to stop the deployment. Yesterday, the Abkhaz de facto defence minister had asked UNOMIG to withdraw from the Upper Kodori Valley, which it had done. The Abkhaz de facto authorities had then announced their decision to push Georgian armed forces out of the Upper Kodori Valley.
Yesterday afternoon, he continued, UNOMIG had reported aerial bombardments of villages in the Upper Kodori Valley and observed movement by the Abkhaz side of substantial numbers of military personnel into the Valley. Early today, the Abkhaz de facto president had given a press conference announcing that the operation in the Upper Kodori Valley was proceeding according to plan. He had said that both Georgian civilian and armed personnel had been given an ultimatum to leave the Valley and that his side was coordinating its activity with CIS peacekeeping forces so as to restore order in the peacekeeping area of response. He had said that the Russian Federation had been asked to strengthen the Abkhaz maritime border, and that negotiations with Russia were only possible after the Abkhaz operations were completed.
Information had been received that most civilians from the Upper Kodori Valley had left, Mr. Mulet said. Throughout most of last night and today, UNOMIG had obtained information about the ongoing build-up of forces, both Abkhaz and Russian, in and near the zone of conflict. UNOMIG had also reported that a number of transport airplanes had landed at the airport and that Russian ships belonging to the Black Sea fleet were moving towards the port city of Ochamchira. Among other developments, bombings were taking place in the vicinity of the Georgian city of Zugdidi, causing panic among civilians.
As a result of the increase in bombings in the Mission's area of operations, UNOMIG had had to scale down its operations and was now conducting only essential patrols, he continued. The Mission had not observed major movements of troops or weapons on the Georgian side and the only actions observed so far had been reinforcements along the ceasefire line. With the exception of the bombing of the Upper Kodori Valley, no direct confrontations appeared to have broken out as yet in UNOMIG's area of operations. The Mission had asked CIS peacekeepers to provide security for its regional headquarters.
IRAKLI ALASANIA ( Georgia) said that for the last 12 hours the inhumane and indiscriminate bombardment of his country had continued and the damage was yet to be assessed. The invasion had turned into a full-scale occupation of Georgian territory, and efforts to exterminate the country's population and annihilate Georgia's statehood were in full swing. Russian occupying forces had entered the Tskhinvali region and their regular military units had been deployed in cities of the Upper Kodori Valley. Among other things, three bombs had been dropped over the Tbilisi aviation plant, which had been totally destroyed, and Russian jets had attacked the Zugdidi region. Attacks had also taken place as close as 20 kilometres from the capital and outside the conflict zone. In particular, Russia had continued to bomb Gori, which was 60 km from Tbilisi, and the port of Poti 60 km west of Tbilisi. The Russian navy had prevented a ship carrying humanitarian aid from entering the port.
He went on to say that one of the detained pilots had claimed that pilots had received instructions to carry out unlimited flights and indiscriminate bombardment, which represented elements of war crimes. Russian planes had also bombed Upper Abkhazia, and the claims by the Abkhaz de facto authorities had translated into reality. Due to the deliberate inaction of Russian peacekeepers, troops had passed into the conflict zone and the population of the Upper Kodori Valley faced an imminent threat. In that connection, Georgia urged the Council to advise UNOMIG to find ways to resume monitoring Abkhazia, which was the only way to save the civilian population there.
He said it appeared that the Russian leadership had their own justification for an all-out invasion, as they had stated yesterday. The international community had heard that the Georgian side had violated existing agreements, and the Russian Federation had also asserted that it was engaging in peacemaking or peace enforcement. That statement was really in the category of absurdity and nonsense. The question was whether Russia was trying to substitute for the Security Council, when in reality it was an aggressor in the conflict. The Georgian leadership had reached out to the Russian political leadership overnight, but unfortunately the President of Russia had refused directly to engage his Georgian counterpart in dialogue.
To demonstrate the seriousness of its ceasefire offer, Tbilisi had passed a note verbale to Moscow, indicating that the President of Georgia had issued a declaration to cease all military activities in South Ossetia, he said. All Georgian troops had withdrawn from the conflict zone and a humanitarian corridor had been established. During the ceasefire, Georgian forces had been bombed and prevented from full-scale withdrawal. Georgia called on the Security Council -– the highest legitimate authority in the world -– for an immediate intervention to protect it from the Russian Federation's ongoing aggression and occupation. It was important to prevent the loss of human lives.
ZALMAY KHALILZAD ( United States) explained that his country had asked for today's meeting in view of the dramatic and dangerous developments of the past 24 hours in and around Georgia. First, there had been intensive Russian military activity in the South Ossetia region, including an influx of many thousands of troops beyond the several hundred Russian peacekeepers present when the crisis had begun. Military operations against Georgian forces in the conflict zone had escalated dramatically. Second, the conflict had expanded with the launch of a Russian-backed military offensive in the Abkhaz region of Georgia, preceded by a demand by Abkhazia for the withdrawal of the peacekeeping presence in the Kodori Valley. That area had since been bombed in what was a direct challenge to a Security Council-mandated Mission, and some Abkhaz officials had stated their intention to drive Georgian officials out of the Valley.
Moreover, the Russian Federation had been attacking villages and cities elsewhere in Georgia, including via air attacks and an attack on the Tbilisi airport, he said. Russian military attacks had also destroyed other critical infrastructure, including seaports. The result of that escalation against a sovereign State that had not posed a direct threat to Russia had increased the number of casualties and suffering among the Georgian population. Against the backdrop of heightened violence, Russian forces had actually impeded the withdrawal of Georgian forces from South Ossetia and prevented concrete Georgian steps to de-escalate the situation. Russian intransigence was evidenced by its refusal to stop the violence. Georgia had offered a ceasefire and respect for prior agreements, but Russia had refused to accept that and continued to resist international efforts at mediation of the conflict, which was now between Russia and Georgia.
In view of the deteriorating situation, the question must be asked what the Security Council could do to stop the violence and return to the status quo of 6 August, he said. One had to draw the appropriate conclusion about what the conflict was and was not. Russia claimed its military operations were intended to protect its peacekeepers and civilians in South Ossetia, yet its actions went way beyond that and the escalation of the conflict was the immediate cause of loss of life and humanitarian suffering. Since Russia was impeding a ceasefire and continuing its military attacks against civilian centres, its aims were clearly not credible. Its expansion of the conflict to another separatist area of Georgia suggested other motives and objectives. 'We must condemn the military assault on a sovereign State, including the targeting of civilians and the campaign of terror against the Georgian population, and condemn the destruction of Georgian infrastructure.'
The Council must do what it could to ensure adherence to the United Nations Charter, and take actions to arrest the threat to international peace and security, he stressed. Furthermore, the Council must take urgent action to call for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all forces to the status quo of 6 August, and that call must apply to all Russian combat forces. The United States had begun consultations with others in the Council, and expected that a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire would be introduced shortly. The United States urged Russia to carefully consider the implications of its aggression against the sovereign State of Georgia.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that, unfortunately, the content of Mr. Pascoe's briefing had shown that the Secretariat and its leadership were unable to adopt an objective position, as required by the substance of the conflict. Over the past three or four days, the Council had been holding meetings on the situation, which had arisen due to the aggression by Georgia against South Ossetia. The meetings had begun at the initiative of the Russian Federation, which had insisted on an open format. Today's meeting was taking place on the joint initiative of Georgia and the United States. Everybody knew how close relations between those States had become in recent years. During preceding meetings, Georgia's representative had named some supposedly Russian citizens in South Ossetia as proof that Russia was governing South Ossetia. According to the Russian delegation's information, however, Georgia had at least 127 advisers from the United States Department of Defense. On 7 August, the day when Georgia had launched military actions against South Ossetia, there had been a joint Georgia-United States military exercise under the name 'Immediate Response'.
The current events were not unexpected, he continued, noting that Russia had on many occasions drawn international attention to the situation in South Ossetia, in particular Georgia's efforts to increase its offensive weapons. In fact, Georgia had increased its military budget by 30 times, and now the purpose of that action was becoming clear. When speaking of the close cooperation between the United States and Georgia, the Russian Federation did not wish to think that the United States had given the green light on the Georgian leadership's military action. The Russian Federation was in close contact with the United States and believed that cooperation with partners should continue in order to restore peace to Georgia.
At the beginning of its aggression against South Ossetia, Georgia's representatives had stated that his country was beginning a war against South Ossetia, he recalled, noting that Georgia was undertaking the re-establishment of constitutional order in South Ossetia by trying to resolve a 50-year-long conflict through military means. Its military action had begun with tank and heavy artillery attacks on Russian peacekeepers, which had resulted in 12 deaths. The Russian Federation wondered whether the term 'ethnic cleansing' could be used to describe Georgia's actions. What other terms could be used when 30,000 of South Ossetia's population of 100,000 had become refugees? Could it be described as genocide when 2,000 out of 100,000 people died?
How many civilians had to die before it was described as genocide? he asked. When others were lamenting the death of civilians in Georgia, why weren't they worried about the attacks on villages in South Ossetia? How could the international community react when, despite all the international agreements -- Russian peacekeepers were acting in South Ossetia in accordance with the agreement of 1992, signed by Georgia and South Ossetia -– Georgia directly targeted peacekeepers and civilians? Had Georgia expected peacekeepers to run away as they had in Srebrenica? The Russian Federation could not allow the civilian population in South Ossetia or peacekeepers to be attacked. It was not occupying South Ossetia, and its reaction had been appropriate. The question was whether the Georgian side was reasonable in its aggression.
The current situation had consequences not only in the region but also beyond, he continued, making an analogy with Kosovo, by pointing out that nobody had limited the definition of what had happened in Kosovo when the bombing of Belgrade had started. The Russian Federation rejected the suggestion of indiscriminate military action on its part. Reference had been made to a statement, allegedly by Russian prisoners, that they had supposedly been ordered to bomb indiscriminately. Such references were unacceptable in an open Council meeting, as was the reference by the representative of the United States regarding terror against civilians, particularly when his country's own actions against the civilian populations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia were known. 'Let's try to reach a serious political decision and not propaganda. Let's not undertake propaganda activities at the Security Council.'
Turning to the Kodori Valley, he recalled that his delegation had on many occasions said that Abkhazia should come to the Council and explain its position. The Russian Federation had drawn attention to the unacceptable situation in the Kodori Valley, 'so why are you surprised now?' Regarding the Black Sea fleet, it had started to patrol the coast and a note to that effect had been sent to the Georgian authorities. The aim was to protect Russian citizens and provide support to peacekeepers and humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in the zone of conflict. The Russian Federation aimed to establish a security zone and not to establish a maritime blockade. It was acting in accordance with its right to self-defence under the United Nations Charter.
He said he had heard a strange statement that the Russian Federation was refusing international efforts to settle the situation when, in fact, President Dmitry Medvedev had been talking with President George W. Bush, and the Foreign Minister had been on the phone with the Secretary of State. Russia was 'explaining everything, listening to everybody', including representatives of the European community. With respect to the Georgian representative's surprise that the President of Russia had refused to talk to the President of Georgia, what reasonable person would agree to talk to him right now? Russia had repeatedly told Georgia that trying to resolve the situation through military means would be 'suicide' for Georgia.
Nonetheless, contacts with the Georgian side had taken place, he added. In particular, there had been a conversation between the Russian Foreign Minister and his Georgian counterpart. A clear statement had been made regarding the ceasefire, and the Foreign Minister had stated that Georgia must withdraw from the territory of South Ossetia and state its readiness to sign an agreement on the non-use of force with South Ossetia. Further discussions could then take place, which would be difficult after Georgia's adventurist undertaking. While Georgia had withdrawn, it was shooting at Russian soldiers. The serious approach would be for Georgia to state clearly that it was withdrawing from South Ossetia and sign an agreement on the non-use of force. 'So let's deal with this tragic situation in a serious way.' Serious decisions could be adopted immediately, first by Tbilisi, then by Russia and then by the international community.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX ( France) said he was particularly alarmed by the expansion of the conflict, both in terms of its intensity and its geographical scope, especially with regard to ongoing aerial bombardments outside South Ossetia. Also very worrying was the significant presence of maritime contingents along the coastline and the threat over the region of Abkhazia. According to information received by the French delegation, there had also been aerial attacks on the Kodori Valley area and troop concentration and build-up along the line of demarcation between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia.
The threat of military operations on the part of the Abkhaz side was equally disturbing, he said, expressing grave concern about the consequences of the deteriorating situation, including the increasing numbers of victims, refugees and internally displaced persons. The figures provided by Mr. Pascoe had been particularly alarming and France was also seriously concerned by the implications of the deterioration for regional peace and stability. Everything must be done to ensure an end to the conflict.
The priority was a cessation of hostilities, without delay, he stressed, adding that he had taken note of Georgia's announcement of its withdrawal of forces from South Ossetia and its cessation of hostilities. That was an important step. All parties must immediately cease hostilities, and everything must be done to arrive at a lasting solution. The French President had submitted a simple plan for a way out, which included the immediate cessation of hostilities, full respect for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and restoration of the status quo ante, implying the withdrawal of Russian and Georgian troops to their earlier positions. Those elements constituted the essential parameters for a solution, following which the international community could define the modalities.
He emphasized that the Council bore a significant responsibility, which it must shoulder to support the ongoing diplomatic efforts. It must call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, a withdrawal of forces to their earlier positions and respect for Georgia's integrity and sovereignty. It was important for the Council to speak out on events, and France would work actively over the next few hours to ensure that the Council would be able to do so. The time had come for members to shoulder their responsibility and end a deteriorating situation that was likely to have consequences for international peace and security.
KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom), stressing that the Secretariat was doing a difficult job in difficult circumstances, rejected the allegation of bias on the part of the Secretariat or Under-Secretary-General Pascoe. The Council relied on information provided by the Secretariat and the attack on it was an attack on the institution.
She said the Council was witnessing a grave escalation of the situation in Georgia, with further Russian bombing of Georgian territory. The Russian navy was preventing the delivery of supplies to Georgia, and attacks had been undertaken on the military airfield close to the civilian airport in Tbilisi. The Georgian Foreign Minister had confirmed the withdrawal of country's forces from South Ossetia and disengagement from Russian forces. President Mikheil Saakashvili had tried to contact Prime Minister Vladimir Putin without success. If leaders were not prepared to talk to each other, it was hard to see how the process could move forward. There were reports of Russian forces striking targets in Georgia proper and the United Kingdom Embassy was having trouble getting access to its own premises in Tbilisi. There were reports of foreign nationals trapped in the conflict zone and corridors were needed to safely evacuate civilians. The United Kingdom held all combatants responsible for the fate of citizens.
A fatal blow had been delivered to Georgia's territorial integrity, she said, adding that the world was witnessing a grave violation of the country's sovereignty. Regarding the Russian Federation's disrespect of peacekeeping functions, its actions had gone beyond any reasonable proportionate response. Instead of rhetoric, that country should explain its refusal to withdraw its troops to their 6 August positions and its intentions with respect to Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia once the fighting stopped. There were doubts that Russia's actions were humanitarian or designed to protect peace in the Caucasus.
Rejecting attempts to draw similarities with Kosovo, she said that if Russia's actions were reminiscent of any party in that conflict, it was certainly not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The United Kingdom endorsed the Secretary-General's strong statement of last night, and repeated its call for an immediate and unconditional end to all hostilities. The Russian and Georgian sides and all other parties should engage with international mediation efforts, withdraw to pre-6 August positions and respect Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. Humanitarian needs must be addressed, but they must not be used as a pretext for Russia to keep its forces in South Ossetia or add new troops. With respect to Abkhazia, the United Kingdom strongly supported UNOMIG and called on the Russian Federation to use its influence over Abkhazia to stop the conflict. Some parties intended to put forth action to stop the hostilities and the United Kingdom would support those moves.
ALDO MANTOVANI ( Italy) said he had clarified his position in previous open meetings and consultations, but wished to add his voice of support for the unconditional restoration of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, as a first step. Italy called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and a restoration of the situation existing prior to 6 August. It also called for an immediate end to all ground, air and sea operations in the area. Italy supported joint European Union-Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mediation efforts and the specific ideas outlined by the French presidency of the European Union. The extension of hostilities to the Abkhazia side was cause for serious, further deep concern, and all parties must comply with resolution 1808 (2008) in all its aspects. Italy welcomed the opening of a humanitarian corridor to ease the suffering of civilians. The gravity of the situation required immediate Council action.
VICE SKRAČIĆ ( Croatia) said that, in the third meeting in as many days, he would again express his grave concern over recent developments in the region. The situation in the conflict zone seemed to be worsening and heavy fighting continued unabated, with the Georgian Parliament having declared a state of war. Croatia was also extremely concerned by the introduction of large numbers of Russian troops into South Ossetia and now Abkhazia. It fully supported respect for Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and saw the violation of its borders as totally unacceptable.
He said he understood and welcomed that the Russian Federation took seriously its peacekeeping obligations in South Ossetia, but its recent actions had gone far beyond that. Moreover, Croatia was very concerned about the escalation and widening of the conflict to areas not connected with the situation in South Ossetia. A country purporting to act as a peacekeeper in a sovereign State should not be using its military in a completely unrelated region in the same sovereign State. Croatia was extremely concerned that efforts to de-escalate the conflict by direct diplomatic links were not making any real progress, and called again on all sides to immediately and unconditionally agree to a ceasefire and refrain from provocative acts.
Welcoming Georgia's decision to withdraw its forces, he said he was, however, disturbed by reports that retreating Georgian troops were being fired upon. Russia should not be leveraging its position to the detriment of the situation, nor dictate the outcome of the situation between Georgia and Abkhazia. Croatia welcomed the joint European Union-OSCE mission, and hoped they could broker a much-needed ceasefire. It also deplored recent actions by the de facto Abkhaz authorities in the Upper Kodori Valley, who should not be exacerbating an already fragile situation. They should allow UNOMIG's return to the area, in line with the Security Council's mandate. Croatia was ready to support Council action.
LE LUONG MINH (Viet Nam) expressed concern about the continuing escalation of hostilities, which had resulted in numerous casualties and destruction of property, and called on all parties to exercise utmost restrain, observe the agreements they had signed and return to negotiations to find a solution on the basis of respect for each other's legitimate interests. Viet Nam strongly urged the parties to allow and facilitate humanitarian activities, and continued to support international efforts to help resolve the conflict.
JORGE URBINA (Costa Rica), noting that the Secretary-General's statement reflected the chief concerns of Security Council members, said it also reflected accurately the belief of most Council members that only a peaceful political solution rather than a military one would end the conflict. Costa Rica regretted the dimensions of the hostilities and deplored their extension beyond the area of conflict. There was a need for moderation by all parties, including the Russian Federation, whose active participation meant the crisis could turn into a situation of international dimensions.
The use of aggressive language, including repeated references to genocide or ethnic cleansing and crimes of war, would not contribute to calming the spirits or lead to the restoration of peace, he said, calling for a more cautions approach that would lead to a further strengthening of collective security mechanisms. Costa Rica welcomed the initiative by France and mediation efforts by other protagonists. It called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the restoration of the situation prevailing before the conflict. The Council must travel that road in compliance with its responsibilities. It should reinforce the validity of internationally recognized principles, including the protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, Georgia in the present case.
MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso) said his country was concerned about the continuing escalation of violence in South Ossetia and the extension of conflict to other regions of Georgia, particularly Abkhazia. Burkina Faso regretted the increasing number of victims and the worsening humanitarian situation on the ground. Given the current state of affairs and possible future developments, the situation was becoming extremely dangerous for the entire region and could get even worse. It was essential that States in the region demonstrate the greatest restraint.
Urging the international community to call on all parties to cease hostilities, he said it was essential that they commit to a ceasefire, renounce the use of force and respect international humanitarian law. It was important to open a humanitarian corridor and to start negotiations on the basis of the Charter. The parties should not violate UNOMIG's mandate and they should support all initiatives to bring them to the negotiating table. Given the seriousness of the situation, it was essential that the Council do everything it could to convince the parties to cease fighting, renounce the use of force and re-establish dialogue. If that could be done through a consensus resolution, Burkina Faso would make its contribution.
MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said his profound concern about the situation, particularly the humanitarian consequence, had been greatly magnified today. The paucity of a collective Council voice must not extend to silence on such a humanitarian toll. Indonesia was deeply moved by the suffering of innocent civilians as the fighting raged, and impressed upon all conflicting parties to carry out their obligations under international humanitarian law, which was designed precisely to protect civilians in times of armed conflict. The logic of war must not be allowed to prevail; diplomacy and the power of reason over the use of force must be ensured.
While recognizing that the inherent dispute over South Ossetia might not be ripe for an instant solution, ultimately, dialogue was the only path, he stressed. Indonesia found some encouragement, however tenuous, in diplomatic efforts, which it strongly supported, and emphasized the importance of community among Council members, especially the principals, in order to forge common ground and consensus. Indonesia also stressed the value of a simple and early Council message, unburdened by any other consideration than humanitarian ones: 'End the violence now.'
RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) condemned the Georgian Government's decision to impose its authority over South Ossetia through the use of force. Panama was also concerned by, and condemned, the entirely disproportionate and, therefore, illegitimate use of force by the Russian Federation, the explicit aim of which was to protect its citizens and peacekeeping forces. The right to use legitimate force under the Charter's Article 51 carried with it essential limitations, and its abuse meant that Russia was violating its obligations as a permanent Council member. Panama called on the Council immediately to express itself in favour of an end to the use of force and a return to the status quo ante. The Council must also support the diplomatic efforts by several countries and organizations. Panama respected Georgia's territorial integrity, while acknowledging the right to self-determination of the people of South Ossetia, and aware of the conflict between those two principles.
GIADALLA A. ETTALHI ( Libya), expressing deep concern about the escalating violence, the high number of civilian casualties and refugees, and the large-scale destruction in the capital of South Ossetia and other regions, said short-sightedness could lead to disasters of that nature. When that occurred, the international community and the Security Council must meet their responsibilities and obligations in an urgent manner. A serious humanitarian catastrophe had beset the region and the Council must focus on ending it. In spite of the suffering recorded and the deterioration of the situation on the ground, the Council had shown itself unable to reach agreement on common language. Libya would support any initiative, whichever efforts, to reach consensus in the Council. It called for an immediate ceasefire, a return to the status quo ante and respect for valid resolutions and agreements.
Council President JAN GRAULS ( Belgium), speaking in his national capacity, stressed his country's full confidence in the impartiality of the Secretariat as he expressed concern about the escalation of military activities and the territorial extension of the conflict. Events had created a serious humanitarian situation, led to considerable damage and caused the loss of civilian lives. Belgium expressed its unconditional support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders, and called for an immediate ceasefire, without preconditions, and a return to the situation prevailing before 6 August. It called on all parties concerned to abandon military logic and undertake a peaceful solution. Belgium supported the diplomatic solutions under way, but was concerned about the forced withdrawal of UNOMIG observers from the Upper Kodori Valley.
Mr. ALASANIA ( Georgia) said he thought Mr. Churkin had not heard the briefings by the Under-Secretary-General and the Assistant Secretary-General, but that was logical since all that had been heard from the Russian Federation had been propaganda, even when the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, Prague and Budapest. The statements made then had not only been based on false information, but they had also been cynical, outrageous and inhuman. Since when could a neighbouring country use strategic bombers and the indiscriminate, '24-hour non-stop' bombing of civilian targets in support of a peace operation? What kind of grounds did Russia have to do something like that? Russian-style peace enforcement was familiar to its neighbours, such as when the Republic of Chechnya had been erased from the face of the earth. A blind eye had been turned then, and must not be done now. Russia's intention now was the same: to erase Georgian people and statehood. What must be done was what the majority of Council members had advocated today.
Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said he had responded to the overwhelming majority of statements by his colleagues and did not need to return to that, except to one question, namely the Russian Federation's intentions. They were very simple. They found their roots in history, which showed that Russia was very closely linked to the people of the Caucasus. That relationship was very difficult and not always very friendly, but Russia had a very deep feeling of responsibility for the people of the Caucasus. It was very difficult at present to talk about normal feelings between Georgians and Russians, but those feelings had existed for centuries and, in time, they would return. There were millions of Georgians living in the Russian Federation as full-fledged citizens. So the intention of the Russian Federation was to ensure that the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should not fear for their lives or safety.
He suggested a look back into history, to the time in 1991 when Georgia had tried to resolve the Ossetia and Abkhaz conflicts by stating that they were all Georgians. Its military operation had been a major tragedy, resulting in large numbers of refugees. Resolving that problem should be done through the non-use of force and the establishment of economic contacts. So why was a transition to resolving the issue between Georgia and South Ossetia being done 'in this other way'? As for the Georgian representative's reference to Chechnya, everything was 'in its place now', and its citizens were citizens of the Russian Federation as well as the Chechen Republic, where they were flourishing. The Russian Federation hoped the same situation would be established with regard to the Georgians, Abkhazians and South Ossetians.
Mr. KHALIZAD ( United States) noted that, despite his polemics, Mr. Churkin had not responded to the call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and a return to the status quo ante. In fact, he had acknowledged the Russian Federation's refusal to deal with the democratically elected Government of Georgia, acknowledged that the situation was no longer about South Ossetia, attacked the United Nations Secretariat and made reference to other conflicts.
He went on to say that Mr. Churkin had referred to the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's phone conversations with United States State Secretary Condoleezza Rice this morning, a conversation that raised serious questions about Russia's objectives in the conflict. Mr. Lavrov had said that President Saakashvili, the democratically elected President of Georgia, 'must go', which was completely unacceptable and 'crossed the line'. Was Russia's objective regime change in Georgia, the overthrow of the democratically elected Government of that country? Russia must affirm that its aim was not to change the Government of Georgia and that it accepted Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Russian Federation was threatening Georgia's territorial integrity, and the Council must act decisively to reaffirm it.
Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation), describing Mr. Khalilzad's statement as polemical in nature, said the Council had heard enough polemics today, but he would respond on substance. Regarding the ceasefire, the Russian Federation's previous statement had explained the formula that would lead to an end of bloodshed – Georgia's withdrawal from South Ossetia and agreement on the non-use of force in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Today, Georgia's representative had been hinting that he agreed to that, so why did Georgia not withdraw its forces? Russia would not prevent it.
Turning to 'an interesting reference' to a confidential diplomatic phone call between Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Rice, he said 'regime change' was an American expression that Russia did not use. As was known from history, different leaders came to power either democratically or semi-democratically, becoming an obstacle to their people's emergence from difficult situations. The Russian Federation was encouraged by Mr. Khalilzad's public reference to that, which meant he was ready to bring it into the public realm.
Mr. KHALILZAD ( United States) asked whether the goal of the Russian Federation was to change the leadership of Georgia.
Mr. ALASANIA ( Georgia) said that, as he had heard Mr. Churkin, the question asked and the answer received had confirmed that what Russia was seeking was to change the democratically elected Georgian Government.
Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) suggested that he had given a complete response and perhaps the United States representative had not been listening when he had given his response, perhaps he had not had his earpiece on.
For information media • not an official record