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At the UN, Russia and Georgia Tussle on Abkhazia, So Close to Sochi But So Far

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, July 26 -- Russia and Georgia engaged in a diplomatic tangle this week in the UN Security Council, an echo of the helicopter gunship attack in Abkhazia's upper Kodori gorge on March 11 of this year. (Click here for the report.) Abkhazia, like South Ossetia, is a breakaway region of Georgia, one with a UN Observer Mission that the Security Council periodically reviews, most recently in April.

            For this week's review, the Georgia's Ambassador Irakli Alasania asked for a chance to participate and speak. For a non-Security Council member like Georgia to participate, the meeting could not be in the (closed) consultation room, but must be out in the Council chamber.

            Since an item be to be discussed involved the March 11 gunship bombing, widely attributed to Russia, the Russian delegation began by opposing Georgia's participation. But several Council members support Georgia. Russia reportedly then countered that an Abkhaz representative should also then be allowed to participate. Since Abkhazia is not a UN General Assembly member, this would mean that the meeting could not be held anywhere in the Council, even in a side room. It would require an "Arria-style" meeting. (One recent such meet involved George Clooney briefing Council members in a room in the UN's basement, with a phalanx of paparazzi outside, about Darfur.)

            The meeting has been scheduled for Monday, but because of this behind the scene controversy about the meeting's format, it was postpone to Thursday. The Georgian mission scheduled a press conference in the UN's briefing room for 12:30 on Thursday.  Then a compromise was reached, in which the meeting was held in the Security Council chamber, but remained closed so that no one could see it. Inner City Press' sources say that while in the consultation room, several members spoke, out in the Chamber prepared statements were read out by Georgia and Russia. Georgia then cancelled its press conference, and instead held a briefing "stakeout" at the microphone in hall outside the Council.

            Inner City Press was there, and as well as inquiring about the helicopter attack and its history, also asked Amb. Alasania for his take on why the meeting had been postponed from Monday to Thursday. He ascribed this to the Secretary-General's report only become available "three days late." Video here. Later, however, also on-camera, Council President (and Chinese Ambassador) Wang Guangya acknowledged in response to Inner City Press' question that a request had been made for Abkhaz participation. 

            Amb. Wang said that there had been a "procedural discussion" and that "finally" it had been agreed to have a "private debate, a closed meeting." He said that there is an intention for "some other informal meeting might be held, at which representative Abkhaz might be invited." Video here, from Minute 2:04.

             But when Inner City Press asked what the next step would be on the report about the March 11 helicopter attack, Amb. Wang said that the "next step is not in the Council yet."

In Abkhazia, barbering for UN military personnel: game of mirrors

            Georgia emphasizes that there is a history of such attacks, for example in Omalo in 2001, and also in 1999, although in that instance Russia reportedly apologized, that " Russian aircraft were laying mines in an area in Dagestan which was expected to be infiltrated by Chechen fighters, one of the pilots made a mistake and dropped several mines." There was also a bombing of Shahili, near the Georgia - Chechnya border.

            Looking forward toward 2014, when the Winter Olympic will be held near Abkhazia, in Sochi, one wonders what the state of the relationship -- and map -- between Georgia and Russia will be at that time.  $15 billion are slated to be invested in and around Sochi, not counting the investment by oligarch Oleg Deripaska in building Sochi's airport. On this we turn full circle, to an item in the Russian business press of July 26:

"The second tender on the privatization of Serbia's copper company RTB Bor. will be announced on May 31. The start price will be USD340 million. Interest in the participation in the tender was confirmed by 'Soyuzmetallresource', the member of the resource division of Basic Element. Analysts believe that the deal could be executed at lower price if Oleg Deripaska manages to attract Serbia's builders to Sochi projects in exchange for the victory in the tender."

            Georgian Ambassador Alasania was asked, by an ITAR/TASS reporter, if he thought that independence for Kosovo would impact and expand the aims of those in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Amb. Alasania repeated the line about Kosovo being sui generic, a unique case not to be viewed as a precedent. We'll see.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the ongoing National Reconciliation Congress in Somalia.

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