The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe should agree new terms with South Ossetia if it wants to continue working there, says Russia's Foreign Ministry. Moscow has vetoed the expansion of the organisation's current mandate which expires in a week. The OSCE says it's disappointed at Russia's decision, but Moscow insists there needs to be a recognition of what it calls ‘the new realities’.Drawn up in the early 1990s, the current mandate of the OSCE's mission to Georgia is due to expire on December 31. Russia believes that given the current situation its legal basis should be changed. “The agreements on which the current mandate is based have been practically ripped apart with Georgia's attack on South Ossetia. They also have no legal power after Tbilisi officially dropped out of them,” Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, said recently. Lavrov's comments came after Russia blocked the OSCE's attempts to extend the mandate of its mission to Georgia for three more months. Moscow says South Ossetia and Abkhazia are now independent republics and should be dealt with separately. Most countries were for extending the mandate but Russia blocked it. Under the rules of the organisation only unanimous decisions are taken. Georgia strongly opposes Russia’s stance: “We believe that it is a deliberate move by Russia in order to diminish - and preferably eliminate - any international presence here in Georgia in terms of conflict resolution,” stated Aleksandr Nalbandov, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister. The Head of the OSCE mission to Georgia Terhi Hakala says that talks will continue. The OSCE’s mission to Georgia has been operating since 1992, when Georgia used force to regain control of South Ossetia for the first time since the break-up of the USSR. It's made up of local and foreign staff and includes unarmed military monitors. Its work also involves monitoring human rights and economic and environmental issues as well as media freedom. One of the tasks of the OSCE is to prevent and resolve conflicts in Europe, but August's conflict in South Ossetia proved it can be ineffective. Ryan Grist, a former senior OSCE official, says escalation of the conflict prior to August’s events was known about: “There was some shelling of Tskhinvali a few weeks prior to the August events. So I think at all levels in the OSCE, people were very worried about what could happen in the summer. As I say, this shelling a few weeks prior to the August events was a severe escalation and was brought to the attention of everybody in the OSCE,” said Grist.Apart from the OSCE mission, there are currently observers from the European Union, who are also monitoring the ceasefire and will remain in the region. The OSCE chairman hopes negotiations on future activities in Georgia and South Ossetia will continue next year. Experts say that it may take several months for the OSCE's mission in Georgia to wrap up after its mandate expires. According to the Russian foreign minister, a draft of the new mandate has been agreed on with South Ossetia and is already at the OSCE.
South Ossetia has been a de facto Russian protectorate since Moscow's victory in the five-day war in Georgia. But the breakaway republic is becoming an embarrassment for the Kremlin, with a corrupt president, disappearing aid money and brewing social unrest.