Interview: The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia

June 2024

Vita van Dreven

THRI Fellow

Klaas Maes

The EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.

Mr.Klaas Maes is the Spokesperson and Head of the Press and Public Information Section at the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia. The mission is an unarmed civilian monitoring mission of the European Union. We were deployed in September 2008 following the EU-mediated Six Point Agreement which ended the August war 2008.

We have seen quite a lot of change in the Georgian political landscape in the last six months. How has this impacted the work of the EUMM?

“While we closely follow current developments, our mandate requires us to always maintain operational impartiality. Regardless of external circumstances, our objective remains steadfast: to contribute to stability in Georgia through our 24/7 monitoring presence, confidence-building initiatives, and informing EU policy. Of course, when the situation requires, we adapt our strategies and approaches as needed to continue to effectively fulfill this objective.”

One of the nine recommendations from the European Commission is to fight disinformation against the EU. Has the EUMM faced disinformation campaigns and how does it impact the EUMM’s work?

“Disinformation is indeed a serious issue in the region and in Georgia. Although the European Union in general is often a target of disinformation, EUMM particularly has not been subject to any such campaigns recently. However, we continue to closely monitor this area. Our proactive efforts in communicating about our work combined with the fact that the Mission last October marked its 15 years of presence in Georgia, makes that people on both sides of the Administrative Boundary Lines are familiar with our work. This leaves less room for disinformation campaigns to gain traction, if they would occur.”

One of the priorities of the EUMM is ‘to facilitate the resumption of a safe and normal life for the local communities living on both sides of the Administrative Boundary Lines (ABL) with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.’ Can you elaborate on the projects that have contributed to this priority?

“First and foremost, our monitors during their patrols are always engaging with the local communities along the Administrative Boundary Lines to learn about their needs and concerns. Where appropriate, we pass on this information to those who are in a position to help. During these interactions the local population often also share that they feel safer because of our patrols. It enables them to carry out their daily activities more freely, e.g. farming, foraging, interacting with friends and family, etc.”

“In addition, we have several mechanisms in place through which we facilitate dialogue between the conflict parties with the aim of finding practical solutions that benefit the conflict-affected population. Together with the OSCE we organize the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism, IPRM, in Ergneti. During those meetings we encourage participants from both sides of the South Ossetian Administrative Boundary Line to find solutions that benefit the conflict-affected population.”

“The meetings resulted in numerous practical achievements, ranging from the release of detainees to cross-ABL cooperation on agricultural matters and other issues important to local villagers. We also operate the EUMM-managed Hotline. This is basically a phone that we are holding, and that the conflict parties can call to exchange information 24/7. It allows for sharing crucial updates surrounding detentions, irrigation flows, and medical crossing needs. And last, we have our Confidence Building Facility. This section within EUMM focuses on facilitating projects that involve people from both sides of the Administrative Boundary Lines. The goal of these projects is to build trust between communities that have been forcibly separated, despite having lived together in the past.”

In January 2023, the EU also launched the EU Mission in Armenia (EUMA) after two preceding preparatory missions. Is there any form of cooperation between the EUMA and the EUMM given the relative closeness, the similarity of conflict, and quite similar priorities?

We played a significant role in the setup of EUMA. From October 2022 to January 2023, we deployed 40 of our monitors to the EU Monitoring Capacity in Armenia and the EU Planning Assistance Team, which preceded the EUMA and served as preparation for its establishment. After the official establishment of EUMA on 23 January 2023, we continued to provide support, particularly in logistics. Today, we maintain close contact with EUMA to share best practices, as our mandates are indeed very similar. This collaboration ensures that we maximize our effectiveness in promoting peace and stability in the South Caucasus.

 

The closure of crossing points along the South Ossetian ABL and ongoing ‘borderization’ activities, like putting fences, barbed wire and watch towers, have had a detrimental effect on the people living on both sides of the ABL

We have recently marked 15 years since the start of the EUMM mandate. How does the EUMM look back over the progress that has been made?

Indeed, it has been 15 years since we began our operations in Georgia, starting on 1 October 2008. During this time, we have been on the ground 24/7, conducting patrols along the Administrative Boundary Lines (ABL). As a result, we can say that the situation is more stable than immediately after the conflict. While incidents were frequent in the immediate aftermath of the conflict, the situation is now relatively stable, with a low risk of incidents.

This relative stability, however, has taken place against a backdrop of ever-increasing challenges for the conflict-affected population. The closure of crossing points along the South Ossetian ABL and ongoing ‘borderization’ activities, like putting fences, barbed wire and watch towers, have had a detrimental effect on the people living on both sides of the ABL. Restrictions on their freedom of movement have diminished their opportunities to maintain social relations, protect their property rights, to have a decent income, and for children to be educated in their mother tongue.

Thank you for your time.

Share this on social media