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Policy Commentaries | Zurab iashvili*

*Zurab Iashvili is an Editor of EU-Georgia Association Agreement Watch (AA Watch) at the Center for International Studies.

The views expressed attribute only to the authors and not to the institution with which they are affiliated.

This paper examines the role of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia’s breakaway regions. It explores the key characteristics of the unarmed Monitoring mission, covers the insights of its day-to-day tasks in the framework of its mandate. Also, the threats posed by Russia’s continued illegal borderization on Georgian territories, which makes the security conditions on the ground unpredictable, are described in context of the EUMM’s main challenges. We take a retrospective analysis of the EUMM’s mission between 2008 and 2019 and evaluate the pros and cons of the mission, contributions to the peace and security on the ground.

More than 10 years have passed since the latest armed conflict in Georgia’s South Ossetian region.  Since the ceasefire was achieved in 2008, as a result of EU brokered six-point agreement, the European Union’s external relations council decided on the mandate and financed the EU monitoring mission to Georgia. The council was composed of the EU’s foreign ministers and decided to send 200 civilian unarmed observers to Georgia, to be deployed to the buffer zones around Abkhazia and south Ossetia. It is noteworthy, that the EUMM’s deployment has been the fastest European Union’s mission deployment in its history. The Mission started its monitoring activities on 1 October 2008, beginning with oversight of the withdrawal of Russian armed forces from the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ever since, the Mission has been patrolling day and night, mainly in the areas adjacent to the South Ossetian and Abkhazian Administrative Boundary Lines. The Mission’s efforts have been primarily directed at observing the situation on the ground, reporting on incidents and generally, through its presence in the relevant areas, contributing to an improved security situation.

On November 3, 2008 Georgia and the European Union signed the Agreement between the European Union and Georgia on the status of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia. According to EUMM’s mandate, it was to cover the whole territory of Georgia, but the reality was different. As from the first day of monitoring, EUMM was not allowed to control the occupied territories as Russia’s Separatist proxies denied the access. This has undermined the full-scale mandate of the EUMM but nevertheless, we argue the situation would have been much more threatening, if the mission had not existed at all – no conflict prevention mechanisms, no peacekeeping or monitoring tools, no information exchanges, nor mediator as a third party perform its capabilities.

As described, the turning point in assessing the efficiency of the EUMM is the fact that it couldn’t fulfil its mandate comprehensively – having the right to monitor the territories of both sides, denied by the proxy regimes of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. How does the mission manage to resolve those issues with foreseeing its responsibilities and capabilities?  EUMM in Georgia mainly perform its activities under the real pressure from Russian Military and security personnel. Under the agreement reached at the Geneva International Discussions in February 2009, regular meetings under the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) take place between the parties to the conflict. Participants from the EUMM, UN, OSCE, Georgia, Russia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia discuss and resolve specific incidents and issues. In these meetings EU has the main role as a mediator, combining information and being as an alarm from the conflict area.

The main problem is caused by Russia’s destructive role esp. with its continued so called Borderization of further Georgian territories, thus splitting the nearby villages, sometimes families from their land plots and preventing movement, trade and humanitarian assistance.

Nevertheless, this did not prevent EUMM’s decision to be present in conflict zones and to observe, collect information and be mediate between the parties.  According to EUMM’s head of Mission – Erik Hoeg, the main problem for Georgian community is “Borderization“which is causing too many problems for communication between people. Nowadays the strengthening of the administrative boundary line makes it more difficult for people to communicate, meet family members, visit friends next to the border line. Furthermore, problems exist with the crossing of the administrative borders, requirement documents and illegal arrests of civilians, sometimes tortured to death when detained by Russian militaries.

Though the barriers caused by the absence of access to occupied territories exist, EUMM has its own ways of collecting the information, not sending patrols and monitors to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but different alternatives to observe and collect information. “We use open source information; we have groups looking at a large volume of information published in the Internet and other media. We use other technological means as well. We also communicate with people who come from Gali district, Akhalgori, or other parts of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. From these conversations we get a fairly good picture of the situation there. So, I would say that, of course, we cannot fulfill our mandate by 100% but still have a good idea about the situation and give this information to the EU capitals and EU institutions.” (Erik Hoeg).


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Evolution of the Role of the EUMM