“When we solve something, it is not in the main evening news.”
“To the skeptics of EUMM I would simply suggest to try and imagine what the situation would look like without international presence.”
“There is often a delicate balance between freedom of expression and exercising it in the way that does not cross acceptable norms.”
Yet another illegal relocation of border signposts by Russia has presented a significant brain twister to many, including Georgia itself, the international community and institutions that function under its aegis in our country. Kęstutis Jankauskas, head of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia, is among those currently busy solving the puzzle, and it is precisely him that Georgian Journal has invited for an exclusive interview:
– For my first question, I would appreciate an answer based on where you are from and what you think and feel, an honest answer not based on your position and duties – What would Lithuania do if it faced the danger of creeping occupation?
– Lithuania has faced occupation and resisted it for quite a time. Every country has the right to defend itself. Strengthening democracy, rule of law and building resilience of state institutions and free society is the foundation in that defense effort. Ideally, it would be done in close coordination with friends and allies. Just a reminder, that in its fight to restore independence, Lithuania used exclusively peaceful means.
I think that in the post-conflict environment, the key is to abstain from the use of force, avoid provocations, avoid steps which could be perceived as provocations and not to give into provocations and traps. Work on things that are in your hands rather than complain about those which are not. Follow your own agenda, not someone else’s.
– How would you generally assess what really happened? There are two scenarios, two stories told here – one by the Georgian side and another from the Russian one. As head of the monitoring mission, what do your reports say?
– Our reports contain facts and information that our monitors report from the location in question. There are over 200 people monitoring, reading, talking to a variety of interlocutors, collecting pieces of information, measuring, double-checking and putting it all together in the broader context. We cherish our operational impartiality. What we saw was two signposts being installed in the area last weekend. One of them apparently served to replace a similar sign near the Orchosani village which disappeared in April, but it was placed about 300 meters south of the previous one. In the area of Tsitelubani we saw a new signpost being put up about 1200 meters south of the closest signpost in the area, which was installed a while ago.
Issues of damage suffered by signposts have been discussed at the IPRM (Incident Prevention Response Mechanism) meetings for quite some time, including recently this year. They were also discussed in Geneva, as well as the issue of borderisation.
– Considering that this is an incident with a capital I, in a classic way, what was done to prevent it? Isn’t the IPRM kind of turning into a mechanism of incident settlement rather than prevention?
– IPRM is the only functioning mechanism on the ground for addressing relevant security issues. It is meant for prevention of incidents – but if they happen, it is also supposed to respond to them. This mechanism, facilitated by EUMM and OSCE, brings together all the security actors on the ground. It provides not only an opportunity to state one’s position, but also to listen to the other. It is not easy, but it is also a natural part of conflict management and confidence building process. Most important is the fact that participants are willing to listen to each other and search for the way forward together.
It is very often that by reaching some agreement or at least establishing some understanding that we prevent escalation of the situation. IPRM has managed to address a lot of issues related to detentions, irrigation, access to graveyards etc. When we solve something, it is not in the main evening news, however. In this particular case – our presence on the ground, reporting, EU statements, international attention, contacts with both sides, preparations for IPRM on Monday – I would argue that it has prevented escalation and helps keep the situation under control.
– A section of BP pipeline has apparently become property of the so-called South Ossetia. What strategic implications could arise from that?
– The position of pipeline in relation to the line that marks Tbilisi-controlled territory and the area which is not under control of Georgian government has not changed. Neither has, to the best of my knowledge, the ownership of the pipeline. BP would be best place to provide any further assessments, if any.
– There were several protests near the signs, with a group of journalists removing them and getting chided for provocative behavior. What you think of such ways of expressing one’s civil position. What are they going to result in?
– There is often a delicate balance between freedom of expression and exercising it in the way that does not cross acceptable norms. What we have here is a post-conflict situation with many open wounds. It is very emotional. Some people come and remove signposts, while others complain that it would make their lives in the area more complicated. Removal of signposts will not solve this conflict. At the moment we need to rein emotions in and make sure that the situation does not get out of hand. There exists willingness to talk, so let’s do that, and see if we will be able to find the way forward.
– How would you assess the effectiveness of EUMM in these areas? Obviously the mission’s outreach is quite limited, resulting in limited capabilities. What can be done to improve the situation?
– Mandate of EUMM is actually quite wide and extensive. It encompasses stabilization, normalization, confidence building and reporting. We have over 200 monitors from 24 out of 28 EU member states, assisted by over a hundred great Georgian local staff. We monitor the situation round the clock, using a variety of means and tools. Indeed, there are areas where we do not have access. Frankly, I believe that access would be beneficial for everybody, since we would be able to provide reliable information from the ground for decision makers. We stand ready to extend out outreach when situation permits. There were some discussions about it during the last round of Geneva.
To the sceptics of EUMM I would simply suggest to try and imagine what the situation would look like without international presence.
– At the moment, the government is talking about putting international community on alert. What tangible results can come out of this? Have they not already been alerted long ago?
– I believe that attention of the international community is crucial. The variety of hot spots and topics around the world in the age of globalization carries the risk of simply forgetting existence of stable and quiet places anywhere. Direct reporting and global attention sometimes stop tanks, and so does the unity of people. This is what happened in my country. That attention should not be misused, and it is key to speak the truth when calling for help.