Even when Georgia and Russia both disagree on something, there’s one teeny tiny little difference: Russia has a UN Security Council veto. Moscow used the full force of this “nyet” yesterday, when it vetoed a resolution agreed upon by ten of the Council’s 15 members that would have extended the UN’s 135-person observer mission in the border region of Abkhazia.

At issue — still — was the rather mundane matter of the name of the mission, which has for 16 years been known as the UN Observer Mission in Georgia. Russia objects strenuously to this name’s implication that Abkhazia is part of Georgia, which, of course, it is according to every country in the world except Russia and Nicaragua. Coupled with the resolution’s entirely pro forma affirmation of Georgia’s “territorial integrity,” this dastardly affront was too much for Russia to bear.

This Russia Today video gives a good perspective of, well, the Russian side of things: it’s quite simple, really; Georgia started a war last year and just can’t deal with the “new republics in the region” that have emerged.

The full picture is, of course, much more complicated. And, as far as the UN Observer Mission in GeorgiaAbkhazia whatever you want to call the region is concerned, the debate should be utterly moot. The point is to have monitors there, to help with disarming and to ensure that there are no border violations or military escalation from either side.

With OSCE monitors similarly booted from South Ossetia, and EU observers unable to enter either region, this leaves no objective eyes on the ground in the region. In this light, it’s easy to understand Georgia’s fears that Russia’s strategic design is exactly to deprive the area of witnesses or a disincentive for war. Georgia has its own political objectives in invoking the proverbially aggressive Russian bear, but the fact is that the UN observer mission had no dog in this fight and should be allowed to continue doing its job, whatever one calls the place where they are doing it.

*I owe the title to IntLawGrrls, whose helpful post reminded me too to stop reading about Iran and focus a little to the north.

UPDATE: Chris Borgen at Opinio Juris has a smart look at Russia’s “bilateralization” of the Abkhazia/South Ossetia issue.

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