TBILISI, 2 October 2006 - The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, flew to Georgia today and brokered the return to Russia of four Russian military officers charged with espionage.
Georgian officials handed the Russian officers over to Minister De Gucht in the presence of Russian diplomats and the Head of the OSCE Mission to Georgia, Ambassador Roy Reeve. The officers were then driven in OSCE vehicles to Tbilisi international airport, where they boarded a special Russian flight out of Georgia.
"I'm pleased we were able to find a solution to this issue and help defuse the considerable tension which was growing between the two States," said Minister De Gucht. "Conflict prevention is a main focus for the OSCE. In terms of our comprehensive security agenda it was logical and vital to help effectively manage this crisis."
The Chairman-in-Office had been in close contact since last Friday with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, US State Secretary Condoleezza Rice and European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, to try to ease tensions. Minister De Gucht flew to Tbilisi from Brussels and met Minister Bezhuashvili and President Saakashvili before the Russian officers were handed over.
Relations between Russia and Georgia - both participating States in the 56-nation Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe - had deteriorated markedly since the warrants for arrest and detentions on 27 September of several Russian military officers. Georgia charged them with espionage. Russia responded by recalling its Ambassador to Georgia and starting to evacuate diplomatic staff and families. It also stopped issuing visas to Georgian citizens.
The OSCE Chairman-in-Office urged the two States to abide by the principles of international law, to refrain from provocations and to resume dialogue, saying: "Much work remains to be done to put the important relations between these two neighbours on a stronger footing, not least by lowering the rhetorical volume. The OSCE remains ready to assist where possible."
The Chairman-in-Office also called on the parties to restore confidence and revitalize negotiations aimed at finding a settlement for the conflict in Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia. He welcomed the readiness of Georgia to hold a meeting at the highest level between the parties at the initiative of the OSCE Chairmanship, but added that he was aware the details of this meeting still needed to be negotiated.