South Ossetia Peace Process Hangs in Balance
Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava said in Moscow that Georgia will soon say 'no' to the current, Russian-led peace format for South Ossetian conflict resolution, describing it as “unfair.”
Khaindrava was speaking at a news conference held at the Interfax news agency’s office on September 29 after talks with Russian officials. Khaindrava, who was accompanied in Moscow by Secretary of the Georgian National Security Council Gela Bezhuashvili, said before his departure that the visit aimed at clarifying Russia’s position over South Ossetia.
Both Khaindrava and Bezhuashvili hailed talks with Secretary of Russian Security Council Igor Ivanov, held on September 28, as “very open and frank.” “We put forth questions which Mr. Ivanov has to consider with his leadership and we have also received questions which I need to discuss and analyze at home [with the Georgian leadership],” Gela Bezhuashvili told reporters after the negotiations.
There are three major issues that were put forward by the Georgia side: the creation of an effective arrangement for negotiations; the making of the peacekeeping operation efficient and the demand from Tbilisi that Moscow stop supporting secessionist regions through their provision of arms.
Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Issues Giorgi Khaindrava said at a news conference in Moscow that the current peace format in frames of the quadripartite Joint Control Commission (JCC) is ineffective and Georgia will seek a new format for peace talks.
“I think we will not return to the JCC format any more… Maybe it will not happen today, but [it will happen] apparently tomorrow,” Khaindrava was quoted by Interfax as saying. He represents the Georgian side in the JCC.
He described the JCC format as “absolutely unfair.” “Three sides – Russia, South Ossetia and North Ossetia – are represented at the negotiating table against us,” he added.
The JCC has been the major arrangement for the conflicting sides to negotiate over the past decade. The JCC involves the Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and Russia’s North Ossetian sides, and was set up to oversee the 1992 ceasefire agreement in South Ossetia.
Moscow, as well as the South Ossetian side, says that the JCC should be the only format for peace talks. But the South Ossetian side has recently pushed the issue “to increase the status of the JCC,” meaning that the commission should be composed of officials with more authority.
Giorgi Khaindrava also said at the news conference in Moscow that the OSCE is also involved in the peace process, but the its “role is very minimal.”
The OSCE, through its branch office in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali and its monitors there, helps gather information on the military situation in the conflict zone, as well as examines violations of the cease-fire agreement.
The Georgian State Minister said that the OSCE, as well as the EU, should play a more decisive role in the peace process.
Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili criticized the OSCE on September 28 and said the OSCE has failed to become a meaningful vehicle to help solve the South Ossetian conflict. “We can not believe that this [OSCE] is the organization which can solve our conflicts,” Salome Zourabichvili said at a news conference in Tbilisi.
The Georgian leadership has recently started to talk about the importance of U.S. involvement in the peace process. Khaindrava said that the U.S. participation in the South Ossetian peace process “is currently on the agenda and we hope that this will occur.”
Khaindrava also criticized the current peacekeeping format in the conflict zone. The Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPF) stationed in the conflict zone 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.
Khaindrava suggested that the North Ossetian peacekeeping battalion should not be represented in the peacekeeping operations.
He said that internationalization of the peacekeeping operation is also under consideration in Tbilisi, but added that “it is too early” to talk about a possible withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zones.
In this respect, the Georgian State Minister recalled the recent military parade in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on September 20, which marked the unrecognized republic’s ‘independence.’ A demilitarization agreement bans the conflicting sides from bringing military hardware into the conflict zone, which includes an area within a 15-km radius from Tskhinvali.
Khaindrava criticized the Russian peacekeepers for letting the South Ossetian side bring tanks and armored vehicles into Tskhinvali on September 20. “The peacekeepers did not confiscate this armament, moreover, they helped the South Ossetian side organize this [military parade],” Khaindrava said.
He said that this fact once again proved that Russia is directly engaged in militarizing South Ossetia, adding that the region has turned into an “iron fist.”
Khaindrava also criticized the Russian and South Ossetian sides for, as he put it, a lack of desire to investigate the September 20 incident, when a mortar attack on Tskhinvali injured ten civilians.
The attack, which the South Osteen side blamed on Tbilisi, was strongly condemned by the international community. The United States called on Tbilisi to promptly investigate the case and punish those behind the incident. But the Georgian State Minister said that the attack was a provocation “aimed at putting Georgia in an unfavorable position.”
Meanwhile it remains unknown when the conflicting sides will continue negotiations, which were disrupted after the Tskhinvali shelling.