Cablegate: New Sarkozy-Medvedev Agreement: Questions Remain

DE RUEHMO #2701/01 2531507
P 091507Z SEP 08

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 002701


E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2018

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Alice G. Wells for reasons
1.4(b) and (d)

1. (S/NF) Summary: While achieving some key concessions
from Russia on next steps in the Georgia conflict, the
Sarkozy-Medvedev agreement from September 8 still leaves open
questions about the nature and size of Russian troops, role
of EU observers, and the format of October security talks.
After contentious talks lasting four hours, the two sides
reached agreement on the timing of the withdrawal of Russian
forces from Georgia, international observer mechanisms, and
the convening of an international conference on security and
refugees for October 15 in Geneva. FM Lavrov called for
South Ossetia and Abkhazia to participate in the security
conference, and announced Russian troops would remain in
those areas. Medvedev made clear that Russia would not
reverse its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Medvedev and especially Putin remain defiant toward the U.S.,
with Deputy Chief of General Staff General Nogovitsyn
alleging U.S. "complicity" in the armed conflict. Pundits
claim the September 8 Sarkozy visit a victory for Russia,
with the Sarkozy follow-on agreement likely to produce the
Cyprus scenario the Russians say they are comfortable with.
End Summary

Tense negotiations

2. (U) In their meeting September 8, Presidents Sarkozy and
Medvedev discussed their August 12 six-point ceasefire
agreement and agreed upon additional points in three areas.

-- Withdrawal of troops. Within seven days, Russia will
withdraw its troops from the observation posts between Poti
and Senaki, while Russia will within 10 days following the
deployment of "international mechanisms" withdraw its
peacekeepers from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and
Abkhazia to pre-war positions. The document also calls for
the complete return of Georgian armed forces to their bases
by October 1, 2008.

-- International observation mechanisms. Both the existing
UN and OSCE observer missions will remain, while "at least
200" EU monitors will be deployed by October 1, 2008 in the
zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

-- International discussions. An international conference on
Caucasus security will begin on October 15, 2008 in Geneva,
devoted principally to security, refugees and internally
displaced persons (IDPs). The GOR considers that this
conference fulfills the requirements of point six of the
Medvedev-Sarkozy plan of August 12, 2008, which calls for
international discussions on security and stability

3. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX told DCM that the atmosphere
during the negotiations was quite charged and at times became
openly hostile. Sarkozy at one point grabbed FM Lavrov by
the lapels and called him a liar in very strong terms, reacting
to Lavrov's denial that Russia had failed to comply with its
previous withdrawal commitments.XXXXXXXXXX said that
Sarkozy had arrived with a "take it or leave it attitude, very
American in style and very confrontational," and the Russians
Had responded icily. Levitte played a central role in negotiating
the text with Prikhodko, who seemed to be under a lot of pressure
and in fairly bad spirits.

4. (S/NF) In the end, the French believe they got the best
agreement that could be hoped for. XXXXXXXXXXXX said they
attribute their success primarily to the Russians being ready
to reach such a deal -- and in fact anxious to have it as a
way of withdrawing their forces. EU unity and harmony
between the U.S. and the EU also played a role;
XXXXXXXXXXXX observed that the Russians were
clearly conscious that they were facing a united front.
Sarkozy reportedly warned Medvedev that Russia's standing
as a "serious power" had been severely harmed and failure
to meet the obligations Russia is assuming under this agreement
could do a great deal of further damage.

5. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX added that the Russians
treated Barroso harshly and condescendingly, and tried to exclude
him from many of the sessions. The French attributed this to the
Russian view that Barroso is basically a glorified international
civil servant "not worthy to be in the Czar's XXXXXXXXXXXX
confirmed that Putin was nowhere to be seen during the visit.

MOSCOW 00002701 002 OF 004

6. (SBU) In their joint press conference after the meeting,
Medvedev contrasted the EU and U.S. roles, calling the EU
"our natural partner, our key partner," and welcoming the EU
approach as "balanced," while contrasting it to "exotic or
extremist" positions calling for sanctions. He again accused
the U.S. of blessing Georgia's desire to use force in the
conflict, whether by "direct order or silent approval," and
used this purported U.S. behavior as a reason to call for a
new world order. Medvedev made clear that Russia would not
reverse its recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

7. (SBU) Sarkozy in turn renewed the EU's rejection of
Russia's recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian
independence, and at times seemed amused when he thanked
Medvedev for speaking as the "representative of the European
position" on Georgia, and again later when he questioned
Russia's right to "determine Georgia's borders."

Ambiguities remain

8. (C) By fixing a timeline for withdrawal, the agreement
succeeds in rendering obsolete Sarkozy's August 14
clarifications to the August 12 points, to which the GOR
maintained it had never agreed. However, the September 8
agreement leaves open several points that are unclear or
contentious. The number and nature of Russian troops
remaining in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is not specified.
Late September 9, Medvedev declared that Russia would keep
7,600 troops in the two zones; 3,800 in each area. The
Sarkozy agreement appears to accept Russian conditionality
that EU observers be limited to the areas "adjacent" to the
conflict zones. The nature of the international discussions
leaves the precise format of the talks open, not clarifying
if Russia will participate as a mediator or as one of the
conflict parties, whether and in what capacity Abkhazia and
South Ossetia will participate, and what the precise goals of
the talks are. Finally, while Sarkozy gave Medvedev a
non-use of force statement signed by Saakashvili, the
document has no legally binding effect, and it is unclear
whether there will be an effort to make it legally binding.

9. (C) Following Sarkozy's departure, FM Lavrov used a press
conference on September 9 to clarify that Russian troops (not
peacekeepers) would remain in South Ossetia "for a long
time," ostensibly to protect the residents there from
Georgian aggression. On the EU observers, he said their role
would be to guarantee that Georgia would not use force
against South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On the international
discussions, he demanded that South Ossetia and Abkhazia be
given a seat at the table as full-fledged participants.

10. (U) Ambassadors and Defense Attaches were invited to a
briefing by Ministry of Defense spokesman General Anatoliy
Nogovitsyn September 9. Despite a standing-room only
attendance Nogovitsyn disappointed the diplomatic corps by
simply rehashing Russian arguments used to justify Russia's
actions in Georgia, highlighting the history of the
agreements authorizing Russian peacekeeping forces and the
chronology of events from August 6-10. He noted that in
response to a Georgian request, the U.S. had quickly helped
withdraw Georgian troops from Iraq and transported them to
Georgia. By helping Georgia, the U.S. had "set a precedent
of complicity" in the armed conflict, he claimed. Nogovitsyn
also showed alleged Georgian plans of attack for Abkhazia
which Russian forces had "recovered," arguing that they
showed that Georgia had planned to occupy all of Abkhazia,
target hospitals and civilian infrastructure, prevent
refugees from fleeing, etc. He claimed they showed an
"explicit manifestation of genocide." He said that as of
September 9, Russia had 2452 peacekeepers in the conflict
zone. He summarized the plan agreed by Sarkozy and Medvedev
September 8, only noting that Russia expected the EU to send
"at least 250" observers.

Russia defiant; Tandemocracy watch

11. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed that the EU observer mission,
limited to Georgia proper, was a diplomatic success for Russia,
even though the GOR on the eve of the Sarkozy-Medvedev meeting
had categorically refused to allow EU observers to participate in the
post-crisis management. XXXXXXXXXXXX considered the
Sarkozy-Medvedev deal the most likely compromise, and the
maximum that either side could expect. He called the agreement
on Russian troop withdrawal something

MOSCOW 00002701 003 OF 004

that Moscow needed, in order to escape continued
international pressure for not honoring its commitments.

12. (C) Well-connected editors tell us that the mood within
the ruling circles remains defiant. XXXXXXXXXXXX both
told us September 8 that they had seen Putin "at his toughest."
Putin brushed aside the significance of any Western backlash
to Georgia: on the Sochi Olympics, "let them cancel it: we'll
build one stadium instead of two;" on energy, "we'll sell Central
Asian gas to those who want it, including Asia;" on estrangement
with Europe, "don't worry, European leaders tell me that
everything will be normal." If the West did not want Russia,
Russia did not need the West, Putin repeated. "They cannot
intimidate us." At the same time, XXXXXXXXXXXX stressed
that Putin did not advocate a preemptively punitive response
and specifically demurred from pulling Russian investments from
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, arguing that the markets needed
more, not less, predictability. Putin maintained that
Russia wanted to be like China -- to "sit under the roots of
the tree" and build its power quietly -- but that immediate
global responsibilities forced it to act. "When Russia is
challenged, it must respond: we cannot just concede."
XXXXXXXXXXXX told us that the leadership continued to
brush aside the market's punishment of Russian policies,
arguing that they believe the public line that America's
downturn -- and not Georgia -- has precipitated Russia's beating.

13. (C) The public allegations made by Medvedev and Putin
that the U.S. turned a blind eye to, or encouraged, Georgia's
August 7 attack on Tskhinvali continue to be reinforced in
private. Putin told the editors that the U.S. was engaged in
cynical electoral politics and needed to create an "enemy" to
combat, and received no push back in his description of a
one-sided U.S. policy aimed at shoring up the "puppet,"
Saakashvili. There was also no argument with Putin's
assessment that the Georgian leader was politically "dead,"
likely insane, and irrelevant to Russia's decision to
recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia. XXXXXXXXXXXX
marveled at Putin's posture, noting the Prime Minister was
"convinced that right was on his side," and authoritarian in tone.
XXXXXXXXXXXX, warned us that Russian actions were
animated by a wave of patriotism and anti-American sentiment.
"Never have Russians been so united behind Putin and Medvedev"
a stance made easier, he noted, by the public revulsion towards
Saakashvili, which he shared.

14. (C) In assessing the ruling tandem, XXXXXXXXXXXX
stressed that "Putin had proved himself" in the crisis; while
discounting the theory that the Prime Minister intended to return
to the Kremlin soon, XXXXXXXXXXXX said the war in Georgia
made it absolutely clear that Putin did not intend to leave
Medvedev alone. While XXXXXXXXXXXX downplayed the
demise of Medvedev's reform agenda, he agreed that it had been
put to the side. XXXXXXXXXXXX struck a more pessimistic
note, arguing that the war played to the strengths of the anti-war
camp. Russians looked at U.S. statements and concluded that
America was uncomfortable with Russian independence and
hostile to Russian strategic interests. XXXXXXXXXXXX
argued that having "surrounded" Russia, the U.S. should
understand the backlash that it produced.

15. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX told us on September 9 that
the President had emerged stronger because of the
Georgian crisis. Whereas Putin appeared to take the
lead during the fight, Medvedev showed his mettle by
arranging the terms to stop the conflict. The decision to
recognize the separatist regions was "unavoidable" after the
leadership had decided to go beyond the borders of South
Ossetia (a decision that XXXXXXXXXXXX linked to Putin's
personal enmity for Saakashvilli) and underscored that
Moscow could not backtrack on that decision. Medvedev was
apparently comfortable with the state of affairs
XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that Medvedev looked "relaxed"
during a private dinner at Sochi on September 2. For the time being,
XXXXXXXXXXXX sawMedvedev as somewhat boxed in and
forced to take a more aggressive, "emotional" public stance than his
usual lawyerly approach to policy. In the current Russian political
environment, any effort at taking a "softer approach" would only
make him appear weak.


16. (C) The September 8 Sarkozy-Medvedev document is a step

MOSCOW 00002701 004 OF 004

forward in setting clear deadlines for Russian troop
withdrawal. However, the limits on the EU observer mission,
as well as questions about the October 15 security
conference, and Medvedev's insistence that Russia will not
reverse its decision on recognition, presage the likelihood
of a new "Cyprus-like" frozen conflict in the Caucasus.

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