Analysis


Paris, unlike Washington, can claim to be an impartial mediator, and Sarkozy is bolstered by his current role as the chief of the 27-nation European Union, Russia's biggest trading partner.

But a cease-fire deal that Sarkozy crafted is spluttering. His diplomatic blitz to Moscow and Tbilisi on Monday may be his last chance to save it - and his credibility as a peacemaker.

Officially, Sarkozy, who will be joined by the European Commission president and the EU's foreign policy chief, is charged with ensuring that the terms of the accord are being honored.

Even for the most seasoned diplomat, that is no small feat.

Russian forces have been digging in their heels, President Dmitry Medvedev has given no sign of backing down, and the historical and legal backdrop is complex.

Sarkozy made his reputation as a results-oriented, energetic and tough-talking interior minister, qualities in contrast with the stuffy, eloquent and high-minded French diplomats of yesteryear. At times Sarkozy's abrupt, unstatesmanlike style has overshadowed his message.

Several analysts said the primary goal of Sarkozy's mission Monday needs to be cooling tensions between Russia and Georgia, which are not as quantifiable as the hard results that he typically seeks.

Sarkozy will be carrying an EU mandate: Bloc leaders who met at an emergency summit on the crisis Sept. 1 scolded Moscow, insisting it was not holding up its side of the deal because Russian forces remain inside Georgia. Russia calls them peacekeepers and says they are allowed under the accord.

Sarkozy's priority No. 1 is to get Moscow to pull out hundreds of forces that crossed over from the breakaway zones of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and have taken positions deeper in Georgia, French diplomatic officials say.

The Sarkozy-led mission is also aiming for agreements that would allow more international observers to be deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia to monitor the ceasefire, and set a timetable for talks about the security and stability of the breakaway republics, which Russia recognizes as independent.

Sarkozy's first shuttle mission in the first days after hostilities broke out Aug. 7 led to the cease-fire deal. His second trip to Moscow and Tbilisi in less than a month indicates the crisis is among the biggest that the EU has faced.

"It's very good that the French presidency reacted so quickly,'' said Sabine Fischer, an expert on Russia at the EU's Institute of Security Studies in Paris. But the ceasefire deal has problems, she added: "It gave the Russian side room for interpretation ... this is what Sarkozy has been criticized for.''

So far, in his 16 months in office, Sarkozy's doggedness has paid off in the international arena. …

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