UNITED NATIONS – Russia exercised its veto power in the U.N. Security Council and brought an end Monday to the nearly 16-year-old observer mission monitoring a cease-fire between Georgia and its breakaway Abkhazia region.
Russia's veto late Monday toppled a Western plan to extend the life of the U.N. mission for another year, or even two more weeks, to work out a compromise. The vote was 10-1 with four abstentions — China, Vietnam, Libya and Uganda.
Following the Georgian-Russian war in the breakaway region of South Ossetia last August, Russia recognized the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia insists that both regions are still part of its territory, but Moscow insists they are not.
"We need to get rid of this apparition," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after casting the veto. "Our partners, however, prefer poison to medicine."
The mission's mandate will now expire at midnight Monday in New York, requiring about 130 military observers and more than a dozen police to leave. It was operating on a four-month extension granted by the Council in February to allow for more negotiations.
The mission's abrupt termination follows months of talks between Russia, the United States, Britain, France and Germany.
Both the name — the U.N. Observer Mission in Georgia — and references to Georgia's territorial sovereignty were sticking points.
"It is understandable," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday, "that in the new political and legal conditions most of the names and terms previously used in the old documents are inapplicable."
As promised, Churkin used his nation's right as one of the council's five permanent members to veto the draft resolution. He had said earlier Monday that the mission, known as UNOMIG, would "pass away peacefully" if Russia's demands weren't met.
He had offered to extend the mission's mandate for one month on condition that the Security Council agree to delete all the "offensive references" in the resolution to names and sovereignty — an offer that was rejected by the Western powers.
The Security Council could seek to restore a U.N. mission sometime in the future, but if it met Russia's demands it would effectively recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and determine that Georgia no longer had sovereignty over the two areas, which the U.S. and its European allies refuse to do.
The plan for extending the mission was put forward by the U.S., Britain and France — all of them permanent members — and non-permanent members Croatia, Turkey, Austria and Germany.
It was modeled on U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recommendations last month for a continuing but unnamed U.N. "stabilization mission" to ensure no armed forces or military equipment operated in security zones extending 7.5 miles on each side of the cease-fire line.
China is the fifth council member with veto power.
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo said the United States "deeply regrets" the Russian veto and reiterated the strong U.S. commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity.
The U.S. "will now need to consider other measures," including possibly bolstering a similar European Union monitoring mission to Georgia, she said. "In the meantime it is the civilian population that suffers."
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert said: "We cannot and we will not compromise on the territorial integrity of Georgia,"
The Black Sea province of Abkhazia has been independently run since 1993, when two years of fighting with Georgian troops ended with a U.N.-monitored cease-fire. Two-thirds of Abkhazia residents hold Russian passports, and along with South Ossetia it had sought independence or union with Russia.