This article was originally published on Eurasianet.
For nearly a decade, peacekeepers backed by the European Union have kept watch over a shaky peace at the far corner of Europe – along the contested boundary left after the Georgian-Russian war. The patrol is the EU’s only peace mission of its kind. It also remains the only dispassionate witness and deterrent to flare-ups in a region taut with ethnic tensions, unpredictability, and unclear borders.
When the EU brokered the ceasefire between Georgia and Russia in August 2008, it also took upon itself the task of monitoring compliance, setting up a 200-person contingent known as the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM). But Russia developed its own plan: It declared the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independent states, gave them its full military protection and effectively barred all international monitoring inside them.
Moscow’s veto ended the consensus-based, long-standing peacekeeping operations in the two Soviet-era administrative regions. Until 2008, the regions – which broke away from Georgia just after Georgia broke away from the crumbling USSR – had been monitored by both the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
“Now we are the only international presence, which means that we […] are the eyes and ears of the international community in a wider sense,” Erik Høeg, head of the EUMM, told Eurasianet.
But unlike the previous missions, the EUMM is not allowed into Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It does its monitoring from the Georgian-controlled side. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Georgia in late August and joined the patrol, she, just as the patrollers do, had to peek through binoculars to take a look at South Ossetia.