The Georgian authorities have intensified their calls for a change in the current format of peace talks revolving around the situation in South Ossetia, as well as the mandate of the peacekeeping operation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, describing this mandate as “ineffective” and a cause for the deadlock of the peace process. But Russia claims that the existing four-party format is the only effective mechanism to prevent resumption of hostilities in the conflict zone.
In response to the situation, the Russian Foreign Ministry dispatched its special envoy Valery Kenyaikin to Georgia on September 22 following an escalation of tensions in the South Ossetian conflict zone after a mortar attack on breakaway region’s capital Tskhinvali on September 20. Kenyaikin is Russia’s representative in the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC), which is the major foundation for the conflicting sides to negotiate over the past decade.
“Working in the current format within the JCC has lost its sense. It is clear that the peace process is deadlocked… The JCC turned out to be an absolutely ineffective body during crucial moments,” Giorgi Khaindrava, the Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues, said on September 22. He represents the Georgian side in the JCC.
In response to this, Russian diplomat Kenyaikin, who has already met with Khaindrava, said that it is too early to say that that peace process is deadlocked. “The JCC remains the only effective mechanism for holding negotiations between the sides,” he told reporters on September 22.
The JCC involves Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and Russia’s North Ossetian sides, and was set up to oversee 1992 ceasefire agreement in South Ossetia. This four-party body creates unfavorable conditions for the Georgian side in the process of negotiations, as Tbilisi has to grapple with the South Ossetian side as well as representatives of Russia and Russia’s North Ossetian republic in the JCC, who, according to officials in Tbilisi, fail to act as unbiased mediators.
Representatives of the OSCE also participate in the sessions of the JCC, but this organization’s mandate only includes facilitation of cooperation with and among the parties concerned. The OSCE also monitors violations of the ceasefire agreement in the region, as well as gathers information on the military situation in the conflict zone.
The OSCE will also act as a monitoring body in the process of investigating the recent incident in Tskhinvali, involving a mortar attack which injured about ten civilians on September 20. The OSCE will be briefed by the parties concerned about the investigation process.
The Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPF) stationed in the conflict zone is another mechanism for preserving the ceasefire agreement. The JPF mandate also envisages the facilitation of a demilitarization process in the conflict zone. The JPF is composed of three battalions: two battalions are composed of Georgian and Russian servicemen. The third battalion is also composed of Russian citizens, but only those who are from Russia’s North Ossetian Republic. The Commander of the JPF is appointed by the Russian side.
The Georgian side intensified its criticism towards the Russian-led peacekeeping operation following the events on September 20, when the South Ossetian side demonstrated its military hardware, including tanks and armored vehicles, during a military parade in Tskhinvali to mark the unrecognized republic’s ‘independence.’ Georgian officials indicated that the JPF failed to ensure the demilitarization agreement and let the South Ossetian side dispatch its military hardware in Tskhinvali, which, according to agreements, should be a demilitarized zone.
Although the Georgian side has been highly critical of the current format, they have yet to offer any tangible alternative.
“We have not yet started working over the process of changing the Russian peacekeeping forces with other forces. We have only put the issue on the agenda. We give Russia and its peacekeeping troops [the chance] to convince everybody - us first of all- that the peacekeepers are really necessary and that they can fulfill their duties,” Salome Zourabichvili, the Georgian Foreign Minister, said in an interview with the Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 television station on September 22.
Recently, Tbilisi has also intensified its calls towards the international community to play a more active role in resolving the conflicts in Georgia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said, while addressing UN summit in New York on September 15, that the UN “must change” and help Georgia put an end to the “annexation of the territory of Abkhazia” by, as he put it, a “neighboring country.”
Addressing the UN General Assembly on September 20, the Georgian Foreign Minister said that peace plans being proposed by the Georgian side over the resolution of the South Ossetian conflict will not be enough without effective support from the international community.
“Peace plans are not enough. We now need a mechanism through which the international community will effectively support initiatives and policies that are directed towards a peaceful resolution of the conflicts,” Salome Zourabichvili said.