Ambassador Turunen will continue mediation of the Georgia conflict
Ambassador Antti Turunen's assignment as UN Representative for mediation of the Georgia conflict was given an established status after two years of provisional arrangements. Continuing the mission is important, since the positions of the parties are still far away from each other.
For more than a year, UN Representative, Ambassador Antti Turunen, has made efforts to establish dialogue between the Georgia conflict parties and other key stakeholders.
The work is hard since the positions of the parties are still very different.
“Georgia is of the opinion that Russia is the only party in the conflict, and refuses any involvement with the Abkhazians or South Ossetians. Russia, on the other hand, does not accept a role as a party in the conflict, but considers itself a mediator. Russia is of the opinion that Georgia is in conflict with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it has recognised as independent states,” Turunen explains.
In addition, Abkhazia and South Ossetia aim to enter into a mutual, legally binding non aggression treaty in order to ward off the Georgian threat.
Furthermore, still some time ago, problems with financing cast a shadow over the mediation work. More permanent budgetary solution was found slightly over a week ago, when Georgia and Russia reached mutual political understanding in principle.
“As far as I know, this is the first one of its kind between these two countries since the armed conflict in August 2008. This understanding will finally open the road towards normal UN budget funding after almost two years of provisional arrangements,” Turunen rejoices.
Shuttling between various parties
Turunen operates in conflict mediation in two separate places in particular, in Geneva and in Georgia.
Representing the UN, Turunen acts alongside the EU and OSCE representatives as co chair in the so-called Geneva talks that convene every 2 to 3 months. The talks involve the representatives of Georgia, Russia, the United States, and the separatist governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Every time before the Geneva meetings, the co-chairs make a preparation trip to Tbilisi, Sukhumi [Abkhazia], Tskhinvali [South Ossetian administrative territory], and Moscow,” Turunen explains.
Once a month, Turunen chairs discussions in the meetings of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism in Gali, in the Abkhaz administrative territory.
In addition to these trips, Turunen travels regularly to New York to meet the UN Secretariat and representatives of key member states. In Brussels and Vienna he meets EU and OSCE representatives.
Still, not all work is done entirely alone by Turunen. He is supported by a team of six people the majority of whom work most of the time in Tbilisi, Zugdidi, or Sukhumi.
“For political reasons, our work is continuous shuttling between Geneva and Georgia.”
Russian support decisive
According to Turunen, the key challenge of the conflict continues to be the lacking willingness of the parties to enter into dialogue with each other.
“Solution for the conflict cannot be outlined before the mutual communication between the stakeholders can be made functional enough to facilitate formulation of the actual compromises."
According to Turunen, an important step in this direction would re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Russia.
What further complicates the conflict is the fact that, as a large state, Russia has important interests to protect in this region.
“It is impossible to find a lasting solution without Russian involvement,” Turunen points out.
More wide-ranging stability and enhanced cooperation in the South Caucasus region would promote conflict solution also in Georgia. At the moment, life in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is made difficult by the obstacles of crossing the administrative borders.
It means that it is hard for people to see their relatives living in other areas. People are seeking medical treatment and pensions from Georgia, since Abkhazia is unable to provide social security. Smuggling and criminal activity are rampant when stability and normal commercial activity are non-existent. For example, at the end of season, when farmers have money, kidnappings associated with blackmail increase.
Finnish peace mediation
Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb considered the UN appointment of Turunen, made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a prestigious appointment for Finland, as this is one of the highest UN posts currently held by a Finn.
Finland still has quite a high profile as peace mediator. For example, according to Turunen, Finland enjoys a good reputation in the region among all parties.
“In my opinion, the way Finland has organised its relationship with its eastern neighbour is a success story, which serves as an example for many in the region, although this is not always recognised or admitted.”
Turunen is of the opinion, that it is beneficial for Finland to maintain and develop its contacts with the regional actors at various levels, because that is the best way of conveying examples and ideas.
“I feel that it is a good approach that you don’t force your own ideas on others, but you remain in readiness to assist when requested to do so,” Turunen adds.
Text: Kaarina Vainio
Photos: Eero Kuosmanen