06MOSCOW5933, SOUTH OSSETIA: RUSSIAN MFA ON HEIGHTENED TENSIONS

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW5933 2006-06-02 14:37 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO6249
OO RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #5933/01 1531437
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 021437Z JUN 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7034
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 005933 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/02/2016 
TAGS: PREL MARR MOPS PBTS OSCE GG RS
SUBJECT: SOUTH OSSETIA:  RUSSIAN MFA ON HEIGHTENED TENSIONS 
 
REF: MOSCOW 5532 AND PREV. 
 
Classified By: Minister Counselor for Political Affairs Kirk Augustine. 
  Reason 1.4 (b, d) 
 
1. (C) Summary:  The Russian MFA negotiator on South Ossetia 
assured us June 2 that Russia supports Georgia's territorial 
integrity and borders, despite a June 1 public statement 
implying otherwise.   He denied that Russia intends a 
"creeping annexation" of South Ossetia.  In a separate June 2 
discussion, MFA Georgia Office director detailed a hardening 
Russian position on visas for Russian peacekeepers in 
Georgia.  Putin may agree to a telephone conversation with 
Saakashvili, and the Russians and Ossetians may agree to hold 
the next South Ossetia JCC in Tbilisi.  End Summary. 
 
Russians Serving in South Ossetia 
--------------------------------- 
 
2. (C) We noted to Ambassador Yuriy Popov, negotiator on 
South Ossetia, that Washington was surprised by DFM Karasin's 
answer (reftel) to U/S Burns' concern that Russians were 
serving in the South Ossetian government.  Some officials 
seemed to have concurrent positions in the Russian or North 
Ossetian governments and in the South Ossetian government. 
Popov suggested that they might be in economic positions or 
just advisors.  When we rejected that, he referred to the 
former Georgian foreign minister, a serving French diplomat; 
he suggested that the whole issue was trivial.  We noted that 
each fact in itself -- for example, the announcements of 
appointments to the "government" of South Ossetia appearing 
in the official newspaper "Yuzhnyy Federalnyy" -- might be 
just a small dot.  But Washington was concerned with the 
pattern that emerged when connecting the dots, a pattern that 
much resembled creeping annexation.  Popov strenuously 
rejected the notion, saying Russia had no desire whatever for 
the "wasteland" territory of South Ossetia. 
 
Territorial Integrity 
--------------------- 
 
3. (C) The June 1 MFA Spokesperson's statement calling 
Georgian territorial integrity a "potential condition" and 
not a "political-legal reality" was a dangerous precedent, we 
stressed.  The international community recognizes Georgia's 
de jure territorial integrity.  De facto it could not now 
exercise this legal right on parts of its territory, but it 
was not in Russia's interests to muddle this distinction. 
Popov asserted that Russia is "not trying to question 
Georgia's territorial integrity in principle.  We absolutely 
support it, and are not trying to challenge or disrupt it." 
When asked about Russia's attitude towards Georgia's 1991 
borders, Popov said that Russia is not retreating from its 
support for Georgia's borders.  We said that tone is not 
reflected in the statement, and he answered that the 
statement's tone reflects Russian frustration at constant 
Georgian rhetoric.  We suggested that Georgian rhetoric, 
while brash, could also be a reaction to real Russian 
actions, for example the bans on wine and mineral water. 
 
Visas for PKO 
------------- 
 
4. (C) Popov said the only agreements with Georgia on visas 
concerned Russian military personnel at bases in Georgia, not 
peacekeepers.  South Ossetia was a zone of conflict, and this 
imposed a special regime.  We noted that there is no 
equivalent of a SOFA or UNSCR governing the status of 
peacekeepers, and as long as Georgia was offering visas, it 
would reduce tensions to accept them.  There was always a 
danger that when undocumented peacekeepers patrolled the 
areas of the Zone of Conflict (ZOC) that remained under 
Georgian control, they risked a confrontation with Georgian 
security forces.  Popov said he did not believe the 
peacekeepers would patrol outside the South Ossetian part of 
the ZOC.  In any case, he said, Russia feared that Georgia 
would deny visas to the peacekeepers as a way of harassing or 
eliminating the PKO. 
 
5. (C) In a separate conversation, MFA Georgia Office 
director Semyon Grigoryev told us the Russian position had 
hardened on the visa issue.  In April, when it first arose, 
he was scheduled to fly to Tbilisi to discuss it with the 
Georgians.  He had hoped to negotiate some sort of an 
arrangement short of a visa regime.  Just before departure, 
the Georgians sent a note to the Russians rejecting all 
possibilities except a visa regime.  Grigoryev's superiors 
had then canceled his trip.  By now, he said, the Russians 
categorically rejected the idea of a visa regime and would 
not even talk about it -- while understanding that there is 
no written legal basis for the undocumented status of the 
peacekeepers.  Grigoryev thought no progress could be made on 
 
MOSCOW 00005933  002 OF 002 
 
 
this through bilateral talks, but only through the JCC. 
 
Overall Relations and Some Overtures 
------------------------------------ 
 
6. (C) Popov said Russia, for all its clumsiness, genuinely 
wanted stability
on its southern borders.  He asked why the 
U.S. was concentrating on relatively minor visa matters 
instead of the progress being made through the JCC and the 
more important issues of an overall peace settlement.  We 
said that irritants such as the visa issue are underbrush 
that Russia needs to clear away before it can make real 
progress, and the Georgians seemed to be open to a solution. 
Asked whether he had talked bilaterally with the Georgians, 
he replied that he had not yet done so.  But he said the 
Russians were planning some conciliatory moves, including 
agreeing to Khaindrava's proposal to hold an extraordinary 
JCC meeting in Tbilisi (though Khaindrava proposed June 2, 3, 
or 5, dates which may slip).  The North Ossetians were on 
board with that proposal, and though the South Ossetians were 
still reluctant, Popov believed the Russians could "coax" 
them to Tbilisi.  He hoped the U.S. would "leak" this 
information to our Georgian friends. 
 
7. (C) Grigoryev said he was optimistic that there would be a 
Putin-Saakashvili telephone conversation, though there was no 
official word on this yet.  Popov noted, however, that 
frustration with Georgia was still strong.  Russia was fed up 
with the "disrespect" it received from Georgia, he said, and 
there was a growing school of thought in Russia that 
Georgia's provocative rhetoric was instigated in Washington 
as an indirect way of goading Russia.  He denied that he 
adhered to this school, and we noted that those who believed 
such absurdities would hardly be convinced otherwise by 
American rebuttals.  It was clear, however, that the 
flashpoints in Russian-Georgian relations were well on their 
way to becoming irritants in U.S.-Russian relations.  The 
U.S. exerted a strong restraining influence on Georgian 
rhetoric and actions, but there were real issues that Russia 
and Georgia needed to resolve, and without Russian acceptance 
of its share of responsibility to resolve them, the irritants 
would only grow.  Popov summed up by saying the basic problem 
was one of distrust:  it was clear that the U.S. distrusted 
Russia's intentions, Russia distrusted U.S. intentions, 
Russia distrusted Georgia and vice versa, and the Georgians 
and South Ossetians completely distrusted one another.  We 
replied that one needed to start somewhere to unravel this 
knot, and building Russian-Georgian confidence on South 
Ossetia would be an important start. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
8. (C) Popov, who is still new, was non-committal on issues, 
e.g., visas, on which Grigoryev more openly expressed 
Russia's hard line (Grigoryev is in his last days before 
leaving Moscow to become DCM at Moscow's embassy in Kabul). 
Popov's assertions on territorial integrity should not be 
taken as the MFA's last word on the issue, which will require 
close attention and engagement.  Both Popov and Grigoryev 
believed the recurrent worsening of relations between Russia 
and Georgia was unsustainable.  While Grigoryev recognized 
that direct Russian-Georgian talks would be indispensable to 
reverse this trend, Popov appeared to believe that the U.S. 
could serve as an intermediary for communicating with 
Georgia.  We agree with Grigoryev:  Russia and Georgia must 
engage directly to resolve their problems.  The U.S. can urge 
restraint on both, but should not be a message carrier -- 
that would only lead the two sides to believe that they can 
avoid direct contact, and would diminish their sense of 
responsibility for promoting a settlement. 
BURNS

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