Russia Vetoes Resolution on U.N. Peacekeepers in Georgia

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 15, 2009; 8:54 PM

UNITED NATIONS, June 15-- Russia on Monday vetoed a U.N. resolution authorizing the continued presence of nearly 150 U.N. peacekeepers in Georgia, abruptly ending a 15-year long U.N. effort to monitor Georgia's fragile border with the separatist territory of Abkhazia.

The Russian action set the stage for a rift in diplomatic relations with the United States and its European allies, which have vigorously supported Georgia's sovereignty over Abkhazia. It raised concerns about a new flare-up of violence in Georgia.

In casting its veto, Russia effectively blocked a U.S. and European draft resolution extending the mission's mandate for 15 days to allow the two sides to negotiate a compromise over the future of the United Nations in Georgia. But Russia rejected the draft on the grounds that it continued to endorse Georgia's claim to Abkhazia, which Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, said is "based on old realities."

The 15-nation council voted 10-1 for the Western-backed resolution. Four countries abstained -- China, Libya, Vietnam and Uganda -- citing the failure of the council's main powers to reach agreement. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has ordered the mission to cease its operations by Tuesday, according to his office.

The United Nations issued a statement saying Ban regretted that the diplomatic breakdown in the council undercut a proposal by the U.N. chief to expand a line of separation between Georgia and the breakaway Abkhaz province.

Churkin argued that the government of Georgian President Mikheil Sakaashvili had lost its moral claim to sovereignty over pro-Russian Abkhazia and the separatist South Ossetia, by launching a military strike against Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, last August. In response to the Georgian action, Russia invaded Georgia, recognized the two breakaway territories' independence and signed agreements to establish military bases there.

"The Sakaashvili regime put an end to the territorial intergity of his country, and on the world map two new states emerged, the Republic of Abkhazia and the Republic of South Ossetia," Churkin said. The United States, France, Britain, Germany and other allies blamed Russia for the breakdown in negotiations over a U.N. role in the region. But they said they could not accept a Russian proposal to keep talks going for an additional month because it would have required an abandonment of Georgia's sovereignty.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the United States' third-ranking ambassador at the United Nations, said Washington "deeply regrets" the Russian veto and that it reaffirms its committment to Georgia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. "It is the civilian population that suffers by facing a tenuous security environment without an international presence in Abkhazia, Georgia."

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