The seventeenth round of Geneva talks on October 4 ended “without any progress” with Moscow and its “proxy regimes” from Tskhinvali and Sokhumi putting discussions on even minor matters in deadlock by tying everything to the status issue, a Georgian negotiator said.
Speaking at a news conference after the talks Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergi Kapanadze, said he was “not entirely surprised”, but was “disappointed” with Moscow’s such inflexible position.
The seventeenth round of talks were held in usual format of two working groups with the first one discussing security-related issues and the second one - humanitarian issues. Talks, co-chaired by EU, UN and OSCE, involve negotiators, or as they are formally referred “participants”, from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.
Philippe Lefort, newly appointed EU’s special representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, co-chaired Geneva talks for the first time. He said that talks were held in “a good working atmosphere”. And another co-chair, Antti Turunen, UN representative, described atmosphere during the recent round as “very good and business-like, which gave hope for future discussions.”
Co-chair of talks from OSCE, Giedrius Cekuolis, said the issue of non-use of force continued to be “the main stumbling block”.
Philippe Lefort, who was French ambassador in Tbilisi in 2004-2007, said that statement by Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, made last week at the UN General Assembly, was raised during the seventeenth round of discussion and it gave rise to a number of comments.
Lavrov said in his UN speech that Moscow wanted to act as “a guarantor of arrangements on non-use of force” between Tbilisi and Sokhumi and Tbilisi and Tskhinvali. He said Moscow would welcome if the U.S. and EU also take this role of guarantors.
Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergi Kapanadze, said after the talks on October 4, that the co-chairs made a reference “in general” to this statement of Lavrov, but reiterated Tbilisi’s long-standing position on the matter that Russia should be a party to any non-use of force agreement.
“There is no way Georgia, or any responsible member of international community, can agree on this [Russia’s role as “guarantor of peace”], because Russia is a party to the conflict and any attempt from the side of Moscow to demonstrate itself as a mediator, as a guarantor is not going to work,” Kapanadze said.
He said that Georgia had already made unilateral non-use of pledge last November and now wanted Moscow to reciprocate with “non-ambiguous statement that Russia is not going to attack Georgia and is not going to use force against Georgia.”
Echoing Georgia’s position, the U.S. delegation in Geneva discussion said in a statement after the seventeenth round of talks: “We continue to support unilateral non-use of force commitments and again call on Russia to demonstrate its commitment to the peaceful resolution of the conflict by making its own such pledge.”
In respect of security arrangements on the ground, Georgia aims at achieving presence of international police and peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But being aware that it is not currently feasible, Kapanadze, said Tbilisi was trying to move with “smaller steps”; the Georgian side initially wants EU Monitoring Mission’s (EUMM) regular fact-finding visits to breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Couple of such visits has taken place in the past when EUMM observers inspected incident sites within the breakaway regions. Tbilisi wants such potential regular visits to be followed with possible joint fact-finding visits with inclusion of the Georgian side.
Kapanadze said that there had been no progress in the second working group either. He said that there was “unambiguous statement” from the Russian side, as well as from Tskhinvali and Sokhumi that “they are not willing to discuss the issue of return of IDPs and refugees”, which was putting the talks within the second working group in “deadlock.”
Abkhaz negotiators said before the seventeenth round of talks that they would not discuss this issue after Georgia again raised the return of internally displaced persons and refugees at the UN General Assembly in June, when Tbilisi-sponsored resolution reiterating right of IDPs to return was passed by the Assembly. Moscow was against of the resolution citing that the Geneva discussions were the right place to address the issue of return of IDPs rather than pushing it at the UN, especially without giving floor at the UN to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives.
Kapanadze also said that unlike previous rounds, this time the Russian side was adamantly trying to tie everything to the status issue making it impossible to move forwards even on minor issue, including on some concrete projects aimed at confidence-building measures on grassroots level on the ground.
“It was unfortunate to hear from Moscow, that unless the status-related issues are resolved, there won’t be any progress on the other fronts. This is a very unfortunate development, because we’ve had an agreement within the Geneva framework that in Geneva we come to discuss issues related to security and stability and safe and dignified return of IDPs and refugees without tying these issues to the status,” Kapanadze said.
He said that the Georgian side also raised the issue of detained Georgians held in Tskhinvali prison, but no progress was reached on that issue either. He said 16 people were detained over the last year and it was “imperative” to release those people “immediately without preconditions.”
The sides have agreed to hold the next round of talks on December 14.