Geneva talks on Caucasus end in deadlock

Yet another round of Geneva talks on security and stability in the Caucasus following the August 2008 conflict has brought no result. The parties failed to come to a compromise over a document on non-use of force.

Delegations from Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia under the mediation of the EU, the UN, the OSCE and the US met in Geneva on Tuesday for the eleventh round of talks that have been held regularly since the end of the war launched by Georgia against South Ossetia in 2008. Since then Geneva has been the main venue for the conflicting sides to try to find a compromise and bring peace and stability to the region.

However, the June 8 negotiations ended with no breakthrough. The eleventh round of talks was held in two working groups – on security and on the humanitarian situation – both of which failed. In protest at their opinion being ignored – as they state – Tskhinval’s and Sukhum’s delegations walked out of the negotiations room.

US wrecks the talks

The major stumbling block was a treaty that would guarantee non-use of force by Georgia against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Delegates in the security group did not manage to come to a compromise on the issue since positions of the parties are too different.

“The Georgian side has been doing its best to escape this question with the help of US representatives and even the co-chairmen of the Geneva process – representatives of the EU, the UN and the OSCE,” Vyacheslav Chirikba, Abkhaz president's envoy, told Interfax agency.

Echoing his words, the South Ossetian representative said, “Just as it had been expected, the Georgian side and its satellites have started to more openly express their opinion that, supposedly, with the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreements, there is no need for this draft.”

“Representatives of [Georgian president] Saakashvili’s regime were supported by US Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon,” said Boris Chochiyev, South Ossetian Presidential Envoy on Post-Conflict Regulation. Meanwhile, he went on, “a supplement voicing the need to work out a legally binding document which guarantees the non-use of force was added to the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement on September 8, 2008,” he added as quoted by the South Ossetian state information agency.

However, the US side, says that the August 12, 2008, ceasefire agreement between Georgian President Saakashvili and Russian President Medvedev, mediated by French leader Sarkozy, “already establishes the sides’ commitment to the non-use of force.”

“Full implementation of that agreement – which we still await from the Russian Federation – would render an additional agreement unnecessary,” US delegation to Geneva statement reads. Washington would rather have Geneva talks result in “regular meetings of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanisms (IPRMs) and unfettered access for humanitarian assistance to conflict areas.”

According to Tskhinval’s representative, though, the US “contributes to Geneva talks to be buried.”

“The Americans say: What for would you sign the treaty? Better let us carry out humanitarian operations,” Chochiyev told RIA Novosti in a phone interview. Meanwhile, what is important for South Ossetia, he said, is that Mikhail Saakashvili, with the support of the US, would not attack the republic again.

Tskhinval, Sukhum want more security guarantees

South Ossetian woman stands near her apartment block on August 17, 2008 in Tskhinval (AFP Photo / Dmitry Kostyukov)
Moscow, for its part, maintains that the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement is not enough to make sure the republics can feel safe in the future. A solution would be a non-aggression treaty between Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia which could significantly improve the situation in the region.

However, the issue of the status of the republics hampers the process of talks on the issue. The point is that Tbilisi does not recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, and therefore refuses to sign any international deals with them. At the same time it does not rule out signing a non-use of force agreement with Russia.

“We should find a way out of this situation, otherwise it can keep going on like this for 30-40 years,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Itar-Tass.

The official reminded that Moscow elaborated a concept of a unilateral declaration which would oblige Georgia not to use force against Tskhinval and Sukhum.

Georgia is now pointing the finger at Moscow for the deadlock in the Geneva talks. According to Tbilisi, it was because of the “unconstructive position” of Russia and “its proxy regimes” that participants were unable to come to a compromise.

According to the country’s foreign ministry statement, the Georgian side “as well as other participants of the discussions expressed particular concern” over the statement of Karasin, “who put under question the existence of the August 12 ceasefire agreement and the obligations stemming from this document.”

“This statement once again demonstrates that Russia is trying to avoid its international legal obligations vis-à-vis Georgia and the whole international community,” the statement reads as published on the ministry’s official website.

Following the Tuesday talks, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria stressed that Tbilisi would never sign the disputed agreement with the republics, which it views as its occupied territories. It would be ready, though, to sign such an accord with Russia if it includes “a point demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from the occupied territories.

The talks of the working group on humanitarian issues brought no result either.

“Since the opinion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia was not taken into account, our delegations walked out of the hall,” said Chochiyev, the South Ossetian representative.

Russia recognized the independence of the republics following Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia in August 2008. Since then the states have been recognized by Nicaragua, Venezuela and Nauru.

The 12th round of talks in Geneva is scheduled for July 27, 2010.

Saakashvili optimistic over European comeback

Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and Mikhail Saakashvili (AFP Photo / Eric Feferberg)
Meanwhile, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili seems to be in high spirits over his meeting in Paris with French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy. His visit to the French capital coincided with the Geneva talks.

France supports Tbilisi “in every issue absolutely without any preconditions,” Saakashvili said as quoted by Civil Georgia online news service. “We have discussed all the issues, including the assistance by the EU and France; issues related with Russia’s non-fulfillment of the ceasefire agreement as well as Georgia’s further integration into NATO and bilateral relations,” he told journalists after the meeting in the Elysee Palace.

The Georgian leader also noted that his visit to France came before the meeting between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Sarkozy, which is scheduled for June 11.

“The fact that my visit has been organized two days before Putin’s visit sends a very clear message… This buries Russia’s efforts to isolate our country,” Saakashvili stated.

Among other issues discussed by the two presidents, France’s plan to sell to Russia up to four Mistral-class helicopter carriers was raised. The deal, estimated at about $2.2 billion, will be the first military sale to Russia by a NATO country. Georgia, as well as Baltic states, has repeatedly voiced its concerns over the deal.

Sarkozy reiterated that France is committed to the plan as Russia is its European security partner.

“Russia is called upon to build, together with Europe, a common economic, humanitarian and security space,” a spokesman for the French president said, as quoted by RIA Novosti. “If we expect Russia to behave like a partner in all fields, including defense and security, we should treat it like a partner.”

“The president explained that such is France's political choice,” his spokesman added.

Russia won’t use Mistral against Georgia – Putin

French helicopter transport ship Mistral (AFP Photo / Kirill Kudryavtsev)
The Russian premier expressed hope that there will be no more military conflicts between Moscow and Tbilisi. Easing Saakashvili concerns, Putin stressed that Russia is not going to use Mistral vessels against Georgia. The Prime Minister was speaking to Agence France Presse and France 2 television prior to his visit to Paris.

“I hope, with God’s help, it will never again come to armed conflicts between Russia and Georgia. Never,” he is quoted as saying by Interfax. He added that Russia had done before and will continue doing everything possible to prevent such tragedy in the future.

As for Georgian fears over the planned purchase of the French helicopter carriers, he said “it is not the case when such a weapon should be used”. Modern strike systems, Putin went on, “make it possible to carry out any military operation from the Russian Federation’s territory across the entire territory of Georgia; and Mistral is not needed for that.”

Looking back at the events of August 2008, Putin stressed that Russia had to use armed forces to protect the lives of its peacekeepers and citizens of South Ossetia.

“We stopped at about 20 to 15 kilometers from Tbilisi. And that was not because we did not get into Tbilisi, but because we did not want to,” Putin said. “We had wanted no military operations at all. That is why we had our peacekeepers stationed there,” the prime minister said.

Natalia Makarova, RT.