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22 Sep, 2008 19:17

Europe mediates Russia-Georgia crisis

A Council of Europe delegation is in Moscow to assess the state of Russian-Georgian relations, following the conflict in South Ossetia. The crisis will be the main focus of the group's parliamentary assembly, known as PACE, which opens in Strasbourg next

Meanwhile, Russia continues to help rebuild South Ossetia while the U.S. goes on giving aid to Georgia. But Moscow fears the American aid is part of an effort to re-arm Georgia.

The European delegation will hold talks with Parliament’s Federation Council Speaker Sergey Mironov on Monday and Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov on Tuesday.

Europe played a leading role in brokering a ceasefire between Russian and Georgia after Tbilisi began a military operation to take control of South Ossetia last month.

Council of Europe’s schedule

Monday’s delegation to Moscow is led by Luc Van Den Brande of Belgium, and comprises nine PACE representatives. Van Den Brande and another delegate, Theodoras Pangalos of Greece, are preparing a report on Russia’s role in the conflict. Two other delegates – Matyas Eorsi of Hungary and Kastriot Islami of Albania – are reporting on Georgia’s.

The delegates are to fly to Munich on September 23 and then to Tbilisi. Its further schedule will be considered after its mission is over on September 26.

The situation surrounding Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be high on the agenda of the PACE session opening in Strasbourg on September 29. Earlier reports said that a group of PACE members had proposed reconsidering the mandate of the Russian delegation to PACE over its operations in the Caucasus. The Russian delegation responded by saying Russia could withdraw from the Council of Europe.

Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis on Friday announced that PACE would debate the Russian delegation's mandate in PACE at its upcoming session. Davis said on Ekho Moskvy radio that a debate was sure to be held on a relevant resolution signed by 24 PACE members. The mandate of the Georgian delegation is likely to be questioned, too, he said.

The outcome of the debate is hard to predict and much will depend on what happens at the UN General Assembly session in New York next week, Davis said.

Davis announced that this issue would be discussed in New York by the Council of Europe's 47 foreign ministers to arrive in the U.S. to attend the General Assembly.

U.S. aid to Georgia

Russia is pouring money into South Ossetia to rebuild infrastructure as soon as possible, especially with the coming winter. Moscow has pledged more than $U.S. 400 million to the republic.

The United States, for its part, recently said it will provide $US 1.4 billion to Georgia. The announcement made it clear that it would be used to rebuild houses and infrastructure destroyed in the recent war – and would not be used for military purposes. This is an assurance Moscow is viewing with skepticism – after all, it’s no secret that American dollars helped build up the Georgian army.

But every country needs a thriving economy and not just hand-outs. Until now the Georgian economy was based largely on Russian business.

But right now the main business in Georgia is humanitarian aid. In a refugee camp on the outskirts of Gori, more than 2,000 people have found temporary shelter. Most of the American dollars are spent there – unfortunately doing little for the economy.
“In humanitarian affairs the United States is present with U.S. aid and NGOs like the International Rescue Committee, working closely with UNICEF at this particular moment in ensuring what we call the child protection spaces, more protection orientated,” said Alessandra Morelli, UNHCR Emergency Co-Ordinator.

However, most of the Georgian population is not in tents. They have to find their own way to put bread on the table. Wine has always been at the heart of the Georgian economy, with 75 per cent of Georgian wine selling on the Russian market.

It’s now the season for picking grapes and making wine – for Giorgi Digmelashvili’s family, as well as many others. And that is their only source of income. Today, after ties between the two countries have been cut, Giorgi’s not sure he believes American promises that his future is secure.

“It’s a very difficult time. We’re trying to sell step by step in Europe and America but they’re not familiar with the taste of our wine so I don’t know how much we will sell there. Only the Russians are used to our wine. I hope the Russian market will open again one day soon,” he says.