Russian forces and their separatist militia allies are keeping international monitors out of South Ossetia, according to confidential documents that cast doubts on hopes for a lasting resolution of the war over the breakaway region.
The documents, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, were obtained Friday by The Associated Press. They say Russian troops stopped some observers from entering South Ossetia as recently as two days ago. Other Western diplomats warned that Moscow is also blocking attempts to quadruple the size of the observer mission.
One diplomat said talks aimed at securing Russian permission to let the observers move beyond Georgia and have access to South Ossetia and Abkhazia are deadlocked by Russia's refusal to grant unimpeded access to the volatile area to OSCE monitors.
The European Union has been racing to prepare a separate mission of 200 unarmed observers for Georgia by Oct. 1.
Under an agreement brokered this week by French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, Russia would withdraw its forces from Georgian areas outside of South Ossetia and the separatist Abkhazia region after the EU observers are in place.
The Kremlin's actions at the OSCE “throw into question the sincerity” of Moscow's overall commitment to allow international monitors and to pull back, the senior diplomat said Friday.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Frolov answered reporters' questions by saying the cease-fire agreement brokered by French leader Nicolas Sarkozy said nothing about increasing the number of OSCE observers.
The permanent council of the 56-nation OSCE, which includes Russia, agreed Aug. 19 to boost the number of monitors to 100 to implement the Aug. 12 cease-fire.
But in recent days Moscow appears to have been pulling back.
“Russia has gotten more and more hard-line,” said the diplomat, who has been intimately involved in three weeks of negotiations. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the talks.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday the war was a moment as defining for Russia as the Sept. 11 attacks were for the U.S. He also warned that Russia would protect its interests in other ex-Soviet lands irrespective of Western opinion.
Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for the Vienna-based OSCE, said efforts to reach agreement over the movements of current and future monitors remained under way.
“No one is suggesting that these talks are easy, but they have not collapsed,” he said.
Diplomats, however, said delegates walked out in frustration after Russia rejected a compromise that would have sent the additional monitors initially to areas outside South Ossetia, while not precluding them from entering later.
The OSCE has 28 monitors in the area, but has been trying to send in 80 more to observe military movements since Russia invaded Georgia last month after Georgia attacked South Ossetia.
One document issued Thursday and obtained by the AP said all 28 observers “continue to encounter difficulties in their movement to most of the areas of their deployment.”
“They are denied access to South Ossetia by the Russian Armed Forces deployed in the southern part of the area,” it said. The same report also said that South Ossetian forces had refused to let them cross the border into a district they had been allowed to visit in the past.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations after last month's war with Georgia over the regions.
A U.S. Defense Department team was expected to embark Friday on a delicate mission to determine Georgia's military needs after its war with Russia, a show of support certain to stoke Moscow's anger.