French FM launches mission to Georgia and Russia
French Foreign Minister left Sunday to mediate in the conflict between Georgia and Russia that erupted and escalated over the past three days.11 August 2008
PARIS - French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner left Sunday on a high-stakes mission to mediate in the conflict between Tbilisi and Moscow on behalf of the European Union.
Kouchner, whose country holds the EU presidency, was to submit a three-point peace plan to President Mikheil Saakashvili Sunday in Tbilisi, before heading Monday for talks with Russian leaders in Moscow, his ministry said.
Russian troops backed by tanks and fighter jets seized control of South Ossetia on Sunday, as fears grew that fighting over the breakaway Georgian province could escalate into a wider conflict.
"The aim of France and the European Union is first to obtain a ceasefire through dialogue with the concerned parties, then to contribute to a political solution to this conflict," a French foreign ministry statement said.
The EU peace proposal is based on "an immediate cessation of hostilities; the full respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia" and "the re-establishment of the situation that existed before".
Kouchner is travelling with his Finnish counterpart Alexander Stubb, who represents the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In Tbilisi, he will also consult United Nations and non-governmental agencies to assess humanitarian needs on the ground, the foreign ministry statement said.
A small French aircraft carrying aid supplies will be made available to leave for Tbilisi from Monday.
Kouchner is to report back to EU foreign ministers who are to hold a crisis meeting Wednesday in Brussels to discuss the bloc's response to the conflict in the Caucasus, according to an EU source.
The EU has warned that Russia's military actions against Georgia could affect ties between the bloc and Moscow.
The French foreign minister told TF1 television before leaving Paris he thought the mediation team "will be able to weigh" on the situation.
He warned in an interview earlier of a Balkan-like spiral of violence in the region.
"We are facing an escalation of violence" that is "unacceptable at the doors of Europe," he told Le Parisien newspaper.
"This reminds me all too much of other recent conflicts that have torn our continent apart, particularly in the Balkans."
Georgia's national security council chief Alexander Lomaia said Sunday he hoped the mediators would succeed in influencing Russia.
"The Russians, despite the size of the forces that have entered Georgia, have failed to defeat our troops. But we have to be realistic, it is going to be very difficult to face up to them," he said.
"We can only hope they will be able to put pressure on the Russians."
In his interview with Le Parisien, Kouchner urged Russia to accept a Georgian offer to end hostilities.
"If one of the protagonists, which appears to be the case, commits to a ceasefire, the other one must do the same," he said.
"Russia doubtless feels isolated, even encircled given the transformation of its immediate environment," Kouchner said, in a reference to the pro-Western shift by the ex-Soviet states Georgia and Ukraine, which hope to follow the three Baltic states in joining NATO and the EU.
The United States has a strong presence in Georgia, where it is in charge of training and equipping the armed forces.
"That is no reason, we have told her (Russia) so and we say so again, not to respect the independence of its neighbours," Kouchner said.
Kouchner added that "the strategic nature of this region is a secret for no one," referring to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline that carries oil from the Caspian Sea west via Georgia without entering Russian territory.
[AFP / Expatica]