Eleventh round of Geneva talks on June 8 was marked with major differences among the participants prompting negotiators from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali to describe the EU, OSCE and UN-mediated talks as "deadlocked" and "in crisis."
Like the previous rounds of talks, launched after the August, 2008 war, the eleventh one was also held in two working groups. Participants from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as from breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia are discussing security-related issues in the first working groups and humanitarian issues, including related with displaced persons, - in the second working group.
Non-use of force treaty, or declaration is among the most contentious issues discussed in the first working group, triggering most of the differences.
Tough discussions took place in the second working group as well during the eleventh round of talks with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides walking out from the meeting, citing that thier "opinions are ignored".
In particular, the second working group was discussing a draft document known as "Agreed Undertakings", which deals with issues such rehabilitation of housing and damaged facilities; supply of water and other utilities; legal situation of refugees and internally displaced persons and facilitation of thier voluntary, safe and dignified return; as well as property issues. The latter issue was in the focus of discussion on June 8. In an apparent reference to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian participant's walk-out, co-mediators said in a joint statement after the talks that discussion in the second working group were held "without full participation at the end of the session."
"Basic differences remain and the Co-Chairs call upon all the participants to stay engaged in this ongoing work in a constructive manner," co-mediators, Bolat Nurgaliyev, a special envoy of the Kazakh OSCE chairmanship, Antti Turunen of the UN and Pierre Morel of the EU, said in the joint statement.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released late on June 8 that "due to the unconstructive position of the Russian Federation and its proxy regimes, participants were unable to finalize first reading of the 'Agreed Undertakings'."
"It is especially unfortunate that such a demarche happened on the issues, which are of direct relevance to the well-being and future of the victims of ethnic cleansing," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
Non-Use of Force
First provision of the six-point ceasefire agreement of August 12, 2008, mediated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in capacity of EU presidency, envisages non-use of force commitment. The same was further reiterated in a follow-up agreement of September 8, 2008. Russia, however, says its not enough and and Moscow has been pushing for a long time already for a separate non-use of force treaties between Tbilisi and Sokhumi and Tbilisi and Tskhinvali. The most recent proposal by Russia involves "unilateral declarations" signed separately by Tbilisi, Sokhumi and Tskhinvali on non-use of force pledges. Russia itself refuses to sign such document, as it does not consider itself party into the conflict.
"Our logic really is that they [August 12 and September 8 agreements] are not enough. We can't constantly refer to these agreements as a guarantee of peaceful, happy life in the region," Grigory Karasin, deputy foreign minister, who leads the Russian delegation at Geneva talks, said at a news conference after the June 8 meeting.
Georgia, whose position is backed with the U.S., says that, unlike Russia, it is fully in line with six-point ceasefire agreement, which also includes non-use of force pledge. The six-point agreement also says that the Russian armed forces should withdraw "on the line, preceding the start of hostilities" in August, 2008.
"Unfortunately, on this issue no consensus is yet possible due to the highly unconstructive position of the Russian Federation and its proxy regimes," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in the statement.
It also said that Karasin's remarks "once again demonstrate that Russia is trying to avoid its international legal obligations vis-a-vis Georgia and whole international community."
The Georgian senior officials have stated for number of times that it was ready to sign an additional, separate non-use of force treaty, but on the condition if Russia is part of it. Georgia also wants the new treaty to also reflect the commitments Russia has already undertaken under the six-point agreement.
The U.S. delegation in Geneva talks, led by Philip Gordon, the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, shares this position.
"We note that the August 12, 2008 ceasefire agreement between President Saakashvili of Georgia and President Medvedev of the Russian Federation, mediated by President Sarkozy of France, already establishes the sides’ commitment to the non-use of force," the U.S. delegation said in a statement after the talks.
"Full implementation of that agreement – which we still await from the Russian Federation – would render an additional agreement unnecessary. The United States believes another non-use of force agreement among the relevant parties, including the Russian Federation, could improve the situation on the ground provided it meets the concerns of all parties, includes meaningful implementation measures, and avoids unnecessary politicization of the status issue," the U.S. delegation said. "We hope that future rounds of the Geneva Discussions will focus on completing the implementation of the August 12 commitments, including the provision of unfettered access for humanitarian assistance, to which the Russian Federation committed in the August 12 ceasefire agreement."
Another issue discussed in the security working group was recent developments in Gali district involving killing of two Abkhaz local officials followed by setting fire on several houses of local ethnic Georgians.
"In response to these recent incidents, the participants agreed to convene early next week a meeting of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM) in Gali. The Co-Chairs also recalled that joint visits to the sites of incidents are part of the mechanisms and could be used on this occasion," co-mediators said in the joint statement
During the talks the Georgian side called for the release of those Georgians, which were detained since the August war and are still held in detention in Tskhinvali. By late March 2010, all Ossetians, who were detained by the Georgian police after the August war, had been released.
"This issue will continue to be addressed at the Geneva discussions until all detained persons are reunited with their families," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
Participants from Tskhinvali raised during the talks the issue of resumption of gas supply to the Akhalgori district in breakaway South Ossetia. Georgia shut down gas supply to the district, which was under its control before the August war, as it does not want to provide gas that could be used by the Russian troops stationed in the region.
"Georgia wants us to provide guarantees that the supplied gas will not be used by the Russian troops. We have stated in a categorical form that this is ruled out," Boris Chochiev, participant of talks from breakaway South Ossetia said in remarks posted on a website of breakaway region's authorities.
He also said that because of Georgia and the United States the Geneva talks were "deadlocked", as without having an agreement on the key issue - non-use of force pledge - no other problems, related with security and humanitarian issues, would be resolved.
Echoing the South Ossetian representative's remarks, Vyacheslav Chirikba, the Abkhaz leader's special envoy, told Russia's Interfax news agency after the talks that the Geneva process was "in crisis" as the positions of the sides were "too far from each other".
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that "despite the unconstructiveness of some participants, Geneva Discussions represent a valuable forum" and expressed readiness "to continue full and constructive engagement in the talks with an aim of discussing all outstanding issues, including the most sensitive and controversial ones."
The participants agreed to hold the next round of talks on July 27.