TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia accused Russia on Tuesday of not wanting “witnesses” in Abkhazia after Moscow vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of U.N. monitors in the breakaway region. Russia quashed a Western-proposed resolution at the U.N. Security Council late on Monday designed to buy time to negotiate a long-term plan for the 16-year-old monitoring mission in the Black Sea rebel region.
The mandate expired at 0400 GMT on Tuesday.
Russia’s U.N. envoy Vitaly Churkin said the draft resolution was unacceptable as it referred to a previous resolution reaffirming Georgia’s territorial integrity, a reference he said was “political poison” after last year’s Georgia-Russia war.
“Our (U.N. Security Council) partners knew that we would not accept it because Abkhazia does not figure there as an independent state,” a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said.
“There is no doubt that the full weight of responsibility for the departure of U.N. observers and workers from the region ... rests with those Western states which for many months now have been demonstrating ideological obstinacy,” it said.
Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states after crushing a Georgian assault on South Ossetia last August, and deployed thousands of troops to secure both regions.
“Russia does not need witnesses to register the results of the ethnic cleansing,” Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told a news conference in Tbilisi.
“For Russia, the main target here was to somehow endanger the legal status of the occupied territories, to somehow achieve legitimization of the Sukhumi and Tskhinvali authorities, and to give some kind of legitimacy to the occupying armed forces of Russia in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
Fellow U.N. Security Council member France said Russia’s decision would have “weighty consequences.”
“The Russian veto leaves a still fragile and unstable situation on the ground, which we call on the Security Council to keep monitoring,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Diplomats say it is unclear how long the U.N. mission has to pull out, or whether some kind of presence can yet be salvaged.
Military monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have suffered a similar fate.
Negotiations on extending their mandate in South Ossetia were halted after Russia insisted they be separated from the mission in Georgia. They have been denied access to South Ossetia since the war, and must leave Georgia by June 30.
Monday’s U.N. veto leaves the European Union alone with a 225-strong mission, deployed after the war but unable to enter either South Ossetia or Abkhazia. Vashadze said he expected discussions in the near future on whether to expand the mission.
U.N. mission head Johan Verbeke told Reuters that failure to extend the mission would undermine stability in Abkhazia and leave roughly 60,000 ethnic Georgians there unprotected.
Further instability would worsen tensions in Georgia, where masked police on Monday beat dozens of opposition protesters in Tbilisi. The opposition is demanding President Mikheil Saakashvili quit over the war and his record on democracy.
The country of 4.5 million sits on Russia’s southern border, at the heart of a transit region for oil and gas to the West.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia threw off Tbilisi’s rule in wars in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow and Estelle Shirbon in Paris; editing by Alison Williams