OSCE has high hopes for S.Ossetia deal with Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The head of Europe’s main security and rights body said Wednesday she was confident of reaching a deal with Russia to prevent the collapse of its monitoring in Georgia, seen by the West as crucial to stopping violence.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni, on her first trip to Moscow since taking over the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rotating chairmanship, said she would discuss the proposals with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

“You cannot expect from a country to change the basic position which they have, but that does not mean we cannot find a solution in getting our missions in, this is something else and this should be possible,” she said.

Russia vetoed an extension to the mandate for military observers from the OSCE to Georgia late last year because it wanted a separate mission to Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia.

Western states have refused to comply with that because they say it would amount to de facto acknowledgement that South Ossetia is a sovereign state. Only Russia and Nicaragua have recognized the region as independent.

“The question is not if we can find the formula -- we can find the formula -- as long as we have the will,” Bakoyanni told Reuters in an interview before her meeting with Lavrov.

She said that the question of recognition for South Ossetia could be overcome and drew a parallel with her own country’s participation in EU missions to Kosovo although Athens has not recognized Pristina’s independence from Serbia.

“We had the will and we found the formula, which made it absolutely clear that we don’t recognize (Kosovo’s independence), but ... allowed us to be in Kosovo,” she said.

Western states say OSCE monitors patrolling Georgia’s conflict zone with South Ossetia can provide early warning of any new flare-up in hostilities, and investigate allegations of rights abuses against ethnic Georgians.

Western diplomats complain that the lack of access to South Ossetia means they are unclear about what is happening inside the region. A larger EU observer mission operating on Georgia’s de facto border zone has been blocked from entering it.

Since 1992, 28 military observers from the Vienna-based OSCE have been based in Georgia. A sub-group in South Ossetia was the only international mission there and will have to stop all activities if the mandate is not extended by a February 18 deadline.

Russia launched a counter-attack against Georgia in August after Tbilisi’s forces tried to retake Moscow-backed South Ossetia, which has declared independence from Georgia.

Bakoyanni declined to set out the precise details of her plan and said she does not intend to do so until she has made further progress with Moscow and Tbilisi.

Editing by Louise Ireland