How Sarkozy Ended the Fighting

In clinching a six-point truce between Moscow and Tbilisi in three days, French President Nicolas Sarkozy carried out a diplomatic tour de force that could cement his legacy.

But the actual documents signed by Presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Mikheil Saakashvili are not identical, and there is a third copy of the peace plan with the signatures of the leaders of Georgia's separatist republics, Abkhazia's Sergei Bagapsh and South Ossetia's Eduard Kokoity.

Sarkozy himself called Moscow and offered to mediate in the conflict, Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Lyakin-Frolov said.

Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, flew to Moscow on Aug. 12, four days after Russian forces rebuffed an attempt by the Georgian military to reclaim South Ossetia by force and moved into Georgia proper. After four hours of talks with Medvedev, Sarkozy emerged with the six-point peace plan.

The plan called for an immediate cease-fire, an end to the use of force in South Ossetia and Georgia, and the return of Russian and Georgian troops to the positions they had held before the fighting began. In addition, the plan allowed humanitarian aid into the conflict zone, Russian peacekeepers to take additional security measures to ensure their own safety before international security arrangements were in put into place, and the start of international talks on the future status of and security safeguards for South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Medvedev insisted that he would only sign the peace plan after Saakashvili, Lyakin-Frolov said. But Medvedev refused to sign the same piece of paper.

"Obviously, Medvedev did not want to put his signature on the same paper as Saakashvili after the Russian leadership said it would not negotiate with him," Lyakin-Frolov said.

Sarkozy flew straight from Moscow to Tbilisi and late that same night convinced Saakashvili to agree with the plan. Saakashvili, however, demanded that the sixth point of the truce, which called for the beginning of international talks on the future status of and security safeguards for the separatist regions, be amended to eliminate the word "status." Moscow agreed with his request.

The first people to sign the peace plan were Bagapsh and Kokoity, who did so in Moscow two days later, on Aug. 14. Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili said at the time that Georgia would not recognize a document signed by the separatist leaders.

Saakashvili signed a separate copy of the peace plan the next day. The copy was brought to him by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who picked it up in Paris on her way to Tbilisi from the United States, Lyakin-Frolov said.

The copy signed by Saakashvili was printed on stationary with the French president's official letterhead, but Sarkozy, who also signed the document, is identified as the EU chairman, Lyakin-Frolov said.

"It is very natural that the Americans took this part of the mediation effort upon themselves," Lyakin-Frolov said. "As mentors of Saakashvili's regime, they could persuade him to sign it quickly, and they also wanted to demonstrate their own involvement."

The copy signed by Saakashvili somehow lost a preamble that said the document was the result of an agreement reached between Medvedev and Sarkozy. When this became known, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would use diplomatic channels to find out who had modified the text.

Lyakin-Frolov said the lost preamble was not crucial given that Saakashvili had signed the document.

Moscow's involvement in the forging of the peace plan and its ready acceptance of dropping the word "status" at Saakashvili's request were wise moves that should have showed the world that Russia wanted to end the conflict rather than extend it, said Vladislav Belov, a senior researcher at the Institute of Europe in the Russian Academy of Sciences.

This message failed to come through, though, because of the utter incompetence of the Kremlin's spin doctors, said Mikhail Delyagin, head of the Institute of Globalization Problems.

The peace plan does not provide any timeline for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and does not clarify what kind of additional measures Russian forces can take to ensure the security of Russian peacekeepers.

Iakobashvili, the Georgian reintegration minister, told reporters in Tbilisi on Saturday that Sarkozy had told Rice in Paris that the plan allowed Russian forces to patrol a 15-kilometer zone around the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, but that they could not enter settlements, establish new checkpoints or seize roads. His statement could not be verified Tuesday.

Medvedev said he signed the peace plan Saturday, a day after Saakashvili. Lyakin-Frolov said Medvedev's copy was identical to the one signed by Bagapsh and Kokoity.

Sarkozy acted like a brilliant manager on behalf of the West at a time when its traditional leader, the United States, was struggling to shape its response to the conflict, Delyagin said.

Belov added: "It was a very lucky coincidence for us all that France holds the EU presidency, because the negotiations in Moscow would not have gone so smoothly had it been the Baltic countries or Poland."

The Baltic countries have sided with Georgia in the conflict, while Poland signed an agreement with the United States last week setting up elements of an missile-defense shield on its territory. Moscow fiercely opposes the missile-defense plan, seeing it along with Georgia's ambitions to join NATO as parts of a Western strategy to encircle Russia.

Sarkozy, France's former top police official, has remained modest about his ability to bring warring sides to the table and prevent the war from spinning out of control.

"This plan did not solve everything. It did not aim to. But it did get the parties to agree to the cease-fire," Sarkozy said in an article published in Le Figaro on Monday.