Russia has supported separatist efforts by Georgia's provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia since Georgia declared its independence in 1990, contrary to Moscow's own policy of supporting Georgia's territorial integrity. This past April, Russia launched a series of provocative diplomatic and military initiatives that raised tension to dangerous levels in Abkhazia, and stood by in August as South Ossetian peacekeepers fired at Georgian peacekeepers and villages.
As these tensions devolved into the August 2008 war with Georgia, Russia saw its chance to finally and permanently separate South Ossetia and Abhkhazia from its nominal sovereignty and declared them to be independent nations. But with the exception of Nicaragua, no other nation recognized the statehood of these two tiny territories.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, tried to send in a small group of unarmed military observers to the conflict zone in South Ossetia but was rebuffed by Russian forces. This followed several years of Russia blocking OSCE efforts to increase the number of observers in South Ossetia. The OSCE's job is to monitor military movements in South Ossetia and to assess the humanitarian and human rights situation in the area. Despite pledging under the cease-fire to allow OSCE observers into South Ossetia, Russia has consistently refused access.
The OSCE's mandate expires on December 31. The organization recently met to seek a three-month extension. Only one country, Russia, out of 56 participating states within the OSCE blocked the extension.
In essence, Russia is blackmailing the OSCE: recognition for the 2 breakaway provinces is the price it demands for the extension of the OSCE's peacekeeping and monitoring mission in Georgia. "The United States deplores Russia’s decision effectively to veto a measure supported by the overwhelming majority of OSCE participating States to renew the mandate of the Mission to Georgia," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack in a written statement.
"The OSCE Mission to Georgia has been a valuable contributor to conflict resolution efforts in the Caucasus. Russia's decision to block the extension of the mission is difficult to justify, given the ongoing tensions and significant humanitarian concerns in the region. We continue to have serious concerns about lack of access for humanitarian assistance and human rights abuses against vulnerable populations – concerns that an OSCE Mission could address."