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Europe

Russia Unwilling to Make Compromises at OSCE Meeting

The ongoing tension between Russia and its neighbors loomed over the annual Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ministerial meeting being held in Helsinki.

A Russian road block in Georgia

Many at the meeting had concerns about Russia's continued presence in the Caucasus

More than 50 foreign ministers gathered to discuss European security and the brief war in August between Russia and Georgia. Yet there was no sign of a thawing in tensions between Russia and its neighbors.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the rotating European Union presidency, raised doubts at the meeting over whether the ongoing presence of Russian troops in two rebel Georgian enclaves was in the interests of stability in the Caucasus.

"The European Union is not convinced that the presence of thousands of (Russian) soldiers and military bases (in South Ossetia and Abkhazia) is contributing to this objective" of stabilising the situation in Georgia, he said.

Russian troops withdrew to the two breakaway regions after exiting Georgia proper in the wake of the brief but violent war with the ex-Soviet republic which broke out August 8.

The pullback was in line with an EU-brokered ceasefire, but Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said at the OSCE meeting that talks to bring peace to Georgia could stall if Russia insisted on keeping the troops on what Tbilisi considers to be its territory.

"There can be no confidence in the Geneva negotiations if there is no confidence in the compliance of the ceasefire," she said, adding that EU "monitors have no access to the occupied areas of my country."

OSCE mandate for Georgia

OSCE observers monitor Russian army evacuation of forward positions in Georgia's Igoeti village

Some ministers have called for an extension of the OSCE mission in Georgia

The EU-brokered ceasefire included the stationing of OSCE military monitors inside Georgia. But Moscow has so far blocked the observers from visiting South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- which Russia has since recognized as independent -- making it difficult for the mission to gauge whether the ceasefire is being respected.

Kouchner reiterated Thursday the EU's condemnation of Russian recognition of the two provinces, but said that despite the exclusion of the monitors from the regions, they had still played an important role in stabilizing parts of Georgia.

He said a lasting solution to the conflict rested on respect for principles of independence and territorial integrity.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said "encouraging signs have emerged from the Geneva talks" chaired by the EU, OSCE and United Nations aimed at nailing down a directive for the OSCE mission.

He said Germany wanted "to come to an agreement quickly on a viable mandate for the OSCE's work in all of Georgia."

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also backed OSCE military monitoring in Georgia and its breakaway regions.

The mandate of the monitors expires December 31 and ministers including the Georgian foreign minister have called for an extension of the OSCE presence in Georgia.

New Russia-Europe pact

Kouchner also used the OSCE meeting to call on Moscow to "immediately" renew its commitment to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), which it suspended a year ago.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner

Kouchner called for a return by Russia to the CFE treaty

"The CFE remains a cornerstone of security in Europe," he said, following up on NATO's call Wednesday for Russia to return to the treaty without delay.

The CFE regulates and limits the number of troops and heavy weapons allowed from the Atlantic coast to Russia's Ural mountains.

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