|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5952nd Meeting (PM)
SECURITY COUNCIL HEARS CONFLICTING RUSSIAN, GEORGIAN VIEWS OF WORSENING CRISIS
AS MEMBERS SEEK END TO VIOLENCE IN DAY’S SECOND MEETING ON SOUTH OSSETIA
The Russian Federation and Georgia presented conflicting views on the worsening crisis in the latter’s breakaway South Ossetia region this afternoon as the Security Council struggled to reach agreement on a call for an immediate end to the violence.
As the 15-member body discussed the situation in South Ossetia for the second time in a single day, many of its members saw the situation as a threat to peace and security in the region and beyond, calling for an immediate ceasefire and the resumption of talks between the parties, and expressing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in South Ossetia, Georgia. Several members of the Council also expressed regret that the Council itself had been unable to reach agreement on a statement addressing the unfolding grave situation.
In that connection, Indonesia’s representative stressed the importance of a Council expression of deep concern at the escalation of violence in South Ossetia, and of a call on all the parties to cease hostilities, de-escalate tensions and resolve the conflict through dialogue and negotiations. It was incumbent upon the Council to mobilize its positive power of persuasion to encourage all the parties to exercise restraint and resume negotiations. The stakes were enormous -– peace and stability in the region and, not least, the safety and well-being of vulnerable civilians.
Taking the floor on the first of several occasions, the representative of Georgia said the Russian Federation had started a full-scale military invasion of his country this morning. “We are at war,” he reiterated, pointing out that, while it was difficult to oppose a permanent member in the Council, Georgia had offered a very solid statement to urge the Government of the Russian Federation and other opposing parties to cease their action. Hopefully, Council members would make their judgment on the basis of information presented today by the Georgian side.
He continued: “We demand from the Russian Federation to immediately terminate aerial bombardments, immediately pull out all the occupying forces and, together with international actors, negotiate a ceasefire and mechanisms to ensure lasting peace and stability in this part of Georgia.” President Mikheil Saakashvili was offering direct dialogue with the Russian Federation and other interested parties so as to seek a negotiated solution to the tragic conflict.
The representative of the Russian Federation, also making the first of several interventions, said it was Georgia that had continued its treacherous attack on South Ossetia, despite the Russian leadership’s appeal for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the fratricidal conflict and the resumption of talks. The Russian Federation also abhorred the connivance of a number of Security Council members, who last night had blocked passage of the Russian assessment of the situation.
Warning that a humanitarian catastrophe was in the offing, he said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had instructed the Government to take urgent measures to provide assistance to refugees and other citizens in dire need. “We have to pay attention, finally stop turning a blind eye to the massive acquisition of offensive weapons by Georgia” over the past few years. The situation was so dire that peacekeepers from the Georgian side were shooting at Russian peacekeepers. Many of the innocent civilians dying in South Ossetia were citizens of the Russian Federation. “We cannot put up with the situation.” More than 10 peacekeepers had died and more than 30 had been wounded. Georgia had demonstrated an outrageous disregard for international norms, calling into question its viability as a member of the international community.
The representative of France, current President of the European Union, insisted that there must be a peaceful solution within the sovereign and recognized Georgian territory, and the parties should resume negotiations. The European Union was in close contact with all the protagonists and would spare no effort to pursue discussions. European Union emissaries were on the way to Georgia to seek a solution and the parties should cooperate with them.
Calling on the Russian Federation to cease attacks on Georgia, respect its territorial integrity and withdraw its combat forces from Georgian territory, the representative of the United States said the violence must stop in order to avoid further escalation of the conflict, which clearly posed a threat to international peace and security. The United States was working actively with others to achieve a ceasefire and sought Russia’s support in those efforts. The parties should show utmost restraint and refrain from actions that would cause a further escalation of the conflict. The Council was meeting on the fundamental tenet of its engagement -- support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Speaking on behalf of the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Finland’s representative said her country’s Foreign Minister was in constant contact with the parties and other international actors, having issued a statement calling for an immediate halt to military action and the re-establishment of contacts between the conflicting parties. The Chair had also convened an extraordinary OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna today, and a special envoy was travelling to Georgia. OSCE would continue to work intensively with all parties to defuse tensions and its mandate must be respected by all parties to the conflict. It was important to ensure close coordination between OSCE, the United Nations and the European Union.
Also taking the floor today were representatives of the United Kingdom, China, Italy, Croatia, South Africa, Viet Nam, Libya, Costa Rica, Panama, Burkina Faso and Belgium.
The meeting began at 4:15 p.m. and adjourned at 5:20 p.m.
IRAKLI ALASANIA ( Georgia) recalled that he had stated in the Security Council Chamber only 12 hours before that there were disturbing signs that Georgia was facing a well-calculated provocation to escalate the situation so as to justify premeditated military intervention by the Russian Federation. That evaluation had transformed into brutal reality. This morning, the Russian Federation had started a full-scale military invasion of Georgia.
Outlining the day’s events, including several bombings by Russian aviation, he said it had become known to the Government that today, large amounts of heavy equipment and personnel belonging to the Russian Federation had illegally entered Georgian territory through the Roki Tunnel. The Russian side had openly declared that the task of those military units was to support the criminal regime of Tskhinvali in the fight against the Government of Georgia. In order to justify its actions, the Russian Federation was speculating that the Georgian authorities were targeting the posts of Russian peacekeepers. Nothing could be further from the truth; Georgian troops were not targeting peacekeepers.
Georgia’s action had been taken in self-defence, after repeated armed provocations, and with the sole goal of protecting the civilian population and saving the lives of residents from various ethnic backgrounds, he stressed. The world was witnessing a blunt and open violation of the universally recognized norms and principles of international law. The Russian Federation was openly challenging the international community and jeopardizing established international order and stability in the wider trans-Caucasus.
He said the Russian military aggression was aimed at subduing Georgia and compelling it to give up its Euro-Atlantic aspirations, to subjugate Georgia and the region to Russian political influence and destroy Georgia’s and the international community’s democratic achievements of past years. “We demand from the Russian Federation to immediately terminate aerial bombardments, immediately pull out all the occupying forces and, together with international actors, negotiate a ceasefire and mechanisms to ensure lasting peace and stability in this part of Georgia.” President Mikheil Saakashvili was offering direct dialogue with the Russian Federation and interested parties to search for a negotiated solution to the tragic conflict.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said Georgia continued its treacherous attack on South Ossetia, despite the Russian leadership’s appeal for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the fratricidal conflict and the resumption of talks. The Russian Federation abhorred the connivance of a number of Security Council members, who last night had blocked passage of the Russian assessment of the situation. The aggression being perpetrated was in violation of the United Nations Charter on the non-use of force, the 1996 agreement signed by Georgia, the South Ossetia parties and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the 1992 basic agreement between the Russian Federation and Georgia on the principles for settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian conflict. That agreement obliged the belligerents to undertake measures to halt military confrontation, to cease fire and to withdraw armed units. A demilitarized zone had been created under the accord and the 1996 memorandum of understanding, compelling parties to the conflict to renounce the use or threat of use of force, had been signed by the High Representative of Georgia and the OSCE representative.
Noting in particular the political response of OSCE member States, he said Georgia had used heavy artillery and materiel, unleashing aggressive actions against the people of South Ossetia in a massive bombardment outside the zone of conflict. Schools and Government offices were on fire, a Russian convoy carrying humanitarian assistance had been attacked, the population was panicking and the number of refugees was increasing. A humanitarian catastrophe was in the offing; a scorched-earth tactic was being employed and Georgian snipers were preventing the passage of ambulances. The situation was so catastrophic that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had requested a humanitarian corridor to evacuate the wounded. According to reports from the South Ossetia side, more than 1,300 people had died, in a gross violation of international law, primarily the protection of civilians from military operations. The most vulnerable people in the present situation -– women, children, the elderly and disabled -– were seriously threatened.
The Russian Federation continued to take in refugees from South Ossetia, but scores of innocent civilians remained in the zone of hostilities, he said, adding that his country “will not allow to go unpunished the deaths of our compatriots”. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had instructed the Government to take urgent measures to provide assistance to refugees and other citizens in dire need. “We have to pay attention, finally stop turning a blind eye to the massive acquisition of offensive weapons by Georgia” over the past few years. The special commandos trained by foreign instructors were now finding their use. The situation was so dire that peacekeepers from the Georgian side were shooting at Russian peacekeepers. Many of the innocent civilians dying in South Ossetia were citizens of the Russian Federation.
“We cannot put up with the situation,” he warned, reiterating that firepower against peacekeepers was being aimed directly from tanks and helicopters. More than 10 peacekeepers had died and more than 30 had been wounded. Having carried out an attack on Russian peacekeepers, Georgia had demonstrated an outrageous disregard for international norms, calling into question its viability as a member of the international community. Russia particularly regretted that the Georgian President had proclaimed on television his resolve to continue what he had begun. It was to be he hoped that his European and American colleagues would begin to understand current events and draw the right conclusions. The Russian Federation was intervening as a real peacekeeper; it was present on Georgian territory on an absolutely legal basis and in line with international agreements. Historically, the Russian Federation was and would remain the guarantor of the security of the people of the Caucasus.
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX ( France) deplored the further deterioration of the situation, saying he had a simple message for the parties: there was no way out of the conflict through the military option. There must be a peaceful solution within the sovereign and recognized Georgian territory. The parties should resume negotiations. The European Union was in close contact with all the protagonists and would spare no effort to pursue discussions. European Union emissaries were on the way to Georgia to find a solution, and the parties should cooperate with them. In light of the reported thousands of refugees and numerous casualties, everything must be done to provide shelter and assistance to the population. It was important to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
KAREN PIERCE ( United Kingdom), recalling her delegation’s expression of concern about the situation last night, said the tension had only increased today, with disturbing news of an escalation of the fighting and new casualties. The situation was dangerous and volatile. There were reports of armed personnel arriving from both the Russian Federation and Georgia, Russian bombings and the passage of Russian troops through the Roki Tunnel.
Describing the fighting as a threat to peace and security in the region and beyond, she said her country supported Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, calling on others to do the same. The United Kingdom reiterated its calls for a ceasefire and called on the parties to desist from violence. Humanitarian assistance could not be a pretext for the presence of non-Georgian troops in the region. International engagement was needed in the South Ossetia peace process. The United Kingdom was pleased to support the efforts outlined by France and would continue to support them.
LA YIFAN ( China), describing the situation as “very worrisome”, said his country was gravely concerned about the military conflicts in the region. The parties concerned must urgently seek an immediate ceasefire and refrain from any actions that would escalate the situation. They should immediately resume dialogue and settle their dispute peacefully.
ALDO MANTOVANI (Italy), noting that the situation on the ground had worsened considerably since last night’s meeting, called on all parties immediately to stop all violent acts, ensure a lasting cessation of hostilities and the resumption of negotiations and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. Italy deplored the fact that not only had appeals to honour the Olympic Truce gone unheeded, including those of the Secretary-General and several Council members, but there were also reports of high numbers of casualties in the unfolding conflict, including among civilians and peacekeepers. There were also reported displacements. Italy called for full respect for international humanitarian law by all parties, and full and immediate humanitarian access. Italy fully supported the OSCE mission and condemned the shelling of its premises.
VICE SKRAČIĆ (Croatia) reiterated the grave concerns he had expressed last night, noting that news agencies were reporting heavy fighting near the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. Croatia was extremely concerned about reports that Russian armed forces with tanks and military equipment had crossed into South Ossetia and possibly elsewhere. Although Croatia understood the Russian Federation’s peacekeeping role, that was no justification for violating Georgia’s sovereignty. There was a possibility of open war breaking out between Georgia and Russia. Public statements that the Russian Federation must protect the lives of Russian citizens wherever they might be could have far-reaching ramifications, not limited only to the present conflict. The sides should agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and return to the negotiating table.
BONGIWE QWABE ( South Africa) expressed deep concern about the developments over the past few days, which had seen the breakdown of negotiations and an escalation of violence between Georgia and South Ossetia. Those developments had a destabilizing impact on the region and contributed to the deterioration of relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation. South Africa denounced the use of violence and urged all parties to cease hostilities and resume negotiations without delay. It was necessary to find a solution to the long-standing dispute in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter.
ZALMAY KHALIZAD ( United States), expressing deep concern about the violence in South Ossetia, said the underlying problems had a long history and must be addressed through appropriate channels. However, the deteriorating situation, with the introduction of additional Russian forces and Russian bombings, caused serious concerns about that country’s commitment to respect Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and about its own overall goals. The United States called on the Russian Federation to cease attacks on Georgia, respect its territorial integrity and withdraw its combat forces from Georgian territory.
The violence must stop in order to avoid further escalation of the conflict, which affected not only Georgia, but the wider region, as well, he said. The events clearly posed a threat to international peace and security. The United States was working actively with others to achieve a ceasefire and sought Russia’s support in those efforts. The parties should show utmost restraint and refrain from actions that would cause a further escalation of the conflict. The Council was meeting on the fundamental tenet of its engagement -- support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said that, since the Council’s early-hours meeting, developments in South Ossetia, Georgia, had not made a turn for the better. On the contrary, the international community was witnessing a further escalation of violence and a serious deterioration in security conditions. The attendant humanitarian consequences, as anticipated, were also becoming evident. It was regrettable that the Council had missed an opportunity to pronounce itself clearly and in unison on the unfolding grave situation. “We must not miss that opportunity again.”
He said it was essential that the Council express its deep concern at the escalation and call on all the parties to cease hostilities, de-escalate tensions and demonstrate a preference to resolve the conflict through dialogue and negotiations rather than force of arms. It was incumbent on the Council to mobilize its positive power of persuasion and encourage all the parties to exercise restraint and resume negotiations. The stakes were enormous -– peace and stability in the region and, not least, the safety and well-being of vulnerable civilians. Indonesia called on all conflicting parties to exert extra efforts to protect civilians and spare them from the harm of armed violence, thus averting a humanitarian crisis. All the parties must carry out their obligations under international humanitarian law, which was designed to protect civilians, in particular women and children, in times of armed conflict.
LE LUONG MINH ( Viet Nam), warning that the conflict was escalating to a new level, called on the parties to exercise restraint, renounce the use of force and resume negotiations. International efforts to defuse the situation and restart talks to facilitate the rehabilitation process were to be commended. Viet Nam would continue to work with other Council members to ensure the body’s timely response to events, with a view to de-escalating tensions and bringing the parties to the negotiating table.
GIADALLA A. ETTALHI ( Libya) said that the statements by the Russian Federation and Georgia had demonstrated clearly the deteriorating situation and its grave implications for international peace and security. Deeply regretting the outbreak of violence, particularly the large number of civilian casualties, including among peacekeepers, Libya called for an immediate ceasefire, a return to negotiations and an end to provocations. It was to be hoped that the Council would send a strong message that rose to the same level of gravity as the situation that had exploded in the region.
SAUL WEISLEDER ( Costa Rica), expressing particular concern about the suffering endured by innocent civilians, called on all parties to cease military action, declare an immediate and permanent ceasefire and resume their contacts and political negotiations, without preconditions, so as to find a solution to their dispute. Costa Rica reiterated its support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and urged the parties to facilitate humanitarian assistance to all in need.
RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) said his delegation, like others, was concerned about the violence in South Ossetia and other parts of Georgia. However, of utmost concern was the Council’s inability to arrive at an agreement and understanding of the de facto situation. The versions of events heard today were quite distinct from one another, but both had been heard by the members of the Council. In any event, there had been an appeal for an immediate ceasefire and a return to the status quo ante, and Panama was in agreement with that.
PAUL ROBERT TIENDRÉBÉOGO ( Burkina Faso) said he was very concerned about the escalation in South Ossetia and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. The parties should reach a settlement through negotiations and Burkina Faso encouraged the mediation efforts under way.
Council President JAN GRAULS ( Belgium), speaking in his national capacity, voiced serious concern that tensions in South Ossetia had already caused injuries and great loss of life. In view of the deteriorating situation, including in the humanitarian area, Belgium urged all parties to halt military operations, show moderation, agree to an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and resume dialogue.
KIRSTI LINTONEN ( Finland), speaking in her capacity as representative of the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the Chair-in-Office had expressed grave concern about the deteriorating situation in South Ossetia. OSCE fully supported Georgia’s territorial integrity and urged an end to all violence and military action. Any further escalation would have a devastating impact on the region and on international peace and security. The Georgians, South Ossetians and Russians should cease fire, end military action and stop further escalation.
Saying she was extremely concerned about the reported movement of heavy weapons in the area, she deplored the loss of life and called on all parties to prevent further civilian casualties. As OSCE Chair-in-Office, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs was in constant contact with the parties and other international actors, and had issued a statement calling for an immediate halt to military action and the re-establishment of contacts between the parties. The Chairmanship had also convened an extraordinary OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna today.
She said the OSCE office in Tskhinvali had been evacuated and the special envoy of the Chair-in-Office was travelling to Georgia. The Chair also planned to visit Georgia in the very near future. OSCE would continue to work intensively with all parties to defuse tensions, and its mandate must be respected by all parties to the conflict. It was important to ensure close coordination between OSCE, the United Nations and the European Union in solving the crisis and urged an immediate end to all military action, while calling for restraint.
Mr. ALASANIA (Georgia), expressing gratitude to those Council members who “really are concerned” about the situation, said it had been appalling to hear the Russian representative talk about ethnic cleansing supposedly perpetrated by the Georgian armed forces. It was the Russian Federation that was really perpetrating ethnic cleansing. It was surprising that the representative’s remarks had contained no mention of any bombing incidents that had occurred in the past 24 hours. After all, everyone was gathered in the Chamber to elaborate on those “tragic, criminal, aggressive acts by the Russian side”. Russian warplanes were bombing Georgia’s western Poti port as well as the Viziani airfield, which had been bombed numerous times today.
He said he could now confirm that Russian bombers were in the air and heading in the direction of Georgia. It was understood that the Russian Federation was a permanent member of the Council, but Georgia had presented credible media reports saying “we are at war”, in contrast to the propaganda from the Russian Federation’s media reports. It was difficult to oppose a permanent member in the Council, but Georgia had offered a very solid statement to urge the Russian Federation and other opposing parties to cease their actions. The bombardment of sovereign Georgian territory must stop and there must be an immediate ceasefire. It was to be hoped that Council members would make their judgment on the basis of information presented today by the Georgian side.
Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), noting that it was now his turn to be amazed, said the Georgian representative had voiced surprise that Russia had used the term “ethnic cleansing”. How else could the events be described, when hospitals, schools and residential areas were being destroyed and when thousands of people were leaving the Republic? How else was it possible to describe such actions by a country trying to draw in the international community to protect its interests? Getting to the bottom of the details described by the Georgian delegate was quite difficult. It was also difficult to take his remarks on trust, especially when the headquarters of the Russian peacekeepers had been directly targeted. “How can you unleash that carnage on the territory considered to be the territory of Georgia and then pretend to be offended when you hear that quite clear term describing actions by the Georgian side?”
Mr. ALASANIA ( Georgia) said his country’s authorities had never targeted Russian peacekeepers; those targeted were mercenaries from the Russian Federation who had been targeting the civilian population. The fact that Georgia had never targeted peacekeepers on the ground could be verified. As for ethnic cleansing, the Russian President’s decision legitimized separatist regimes that were themselves responsible for ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately, despite strong statements from Security Council members, the situation had not reverted to the status quo, but Georgia was ready to cooperate with the international community to facilitate a binding ceasefire.
Mr. KHALILZAD ( United States) pointed out that almost everyone speaking today had stressed the importance of a ceasefire, and noted that the representative of Georgia had said his country was ready to accept a ceasefire. However, the statement by his Russian colleague had been silent on the need for an immediate end to violence or acceptance of a ceasefire. It was important for the message on the need for a ceasefire to be loud and clear. An end to violence was needed, and the United States urged the Russian Federation to join what appeared to be a consensus on the need for a cessation of violence, or ceasefire. That was something on which all could come together, and it would put the Council on the path towards dealing with what almost everyone, including Russia, had said must be addressed.
Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) asked: “Who would object to a ceasefire or peace?” Everyone knew peace was better than war. In the present situation, however, one could not get away with slogans alone. Besides making appeals, it was important to determine what principles had been violated and to demand a return to the status quo before Georgia’s aggressive actions against South Ossetia had taken place. Merely proclaiming a nice slogan and then nodding benevolently towards Tbilisi would only create a more dangerous situation.
Mr. ALASANIA ( Georgia) asked: “Are you ready to stop that fighter jet in the air, which will soon be bombing my comrades in Georgia, and what will the Security Council do about it? How will we address that?” Those bombers were about to bomb the civilian population as indiscriminately as they had been doing for the past 24 hours. What would the Council do about that?
Mr. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said the Council meeting was not the best place for an exchange of questions and answers between representatives, but there was an answer to that question. The Georgian leadership could state that it intended in the future to abide by agreements and maintain the peace in the conflict zone. Did Georgia intend to go back to the status quo ante before the start of military action? For a start, it could apologize very seriously for the irresponsible, adventuristic actions that had caused so much death and destruction in the past 24 hours.
Mr. ALASANIA ( Georgia) said: “I heard the answer. Thank you.”
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