Speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on September 18, the Georgian Foreign Minister warned that the current status quo regarding secessionist conflicts in Georgia will lead to confrontation.
As an alternative, the minister suggested direct dialogue between Georgia and the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides with Russia, the EU and the U.S. acting as facilitators.
Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili arrived in Washington after participating in a series of talks with the NATO and EU top officials in Brussels that focused on conflict resolution issues. He is currently accompanying President Saakashvili in New York, where the Georgian leader is expected to address the UN General Assembly Session on September 22. In his speech, Saakashvili is expected to present his argument against the current Russian-led peacekeeping operations in the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones.
Bezhuashvili said that a change of status quo is needed to avoid confrontation.
“A clash is inevitable if the state of affairs is left as is. That was my message to Brussels and that is my message here, and we need a little help,” Bezhuashvili told the audience at the Heritage Foundation.
“To avoid troubles you need to prevent them, you need to set up your own agenda and you need to not be trapped by somebody’s agenda -and this is what is happening now in Georgia. We take initiatives, and this is the only way to avoid a clash. We need a little help to equalize – I am not saying neutralize – the dominant negotiating power of Russia through widening [the negotiating format with the involvement of] actors such as the EU and the U.S. They are ready to jump in, but we need to reach an understanding from Russia,” the Georgian Foreign Minister stated.
“We are not talking about expanding the JCC [the quadripartite negotiating body over South Ossetia]; we are talking about a different format. There should be no Russians, no North Ossetians. In our model, Russia, the U.S. and the EU will be facilitators, not part of the negotiating format,” Bezhuashvili said.
He said instead of acting like a peacekeeper, Russia is currently acting like a ‘piece–keeper.’
“That is what is happening now: keeping a piece of territory here, keeping a piece of territory there, and using them for their own political purposes. That is not an operation which we will tolerate. We need an operation that is multinational, transparent, and helps to resolve the problem,” Bezhuashvili said.
He said Russia “is a part of the problem” and Tbilisi wants Russia “to be part of the solution.”
Bezhuashvili said that three components are needed to set up an effective peacekeeping operation: direct dialogue between the conflicting sides, impartial facilitators and the presence of a multinational police force on the ground.
He said that conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are “territorial disputes and not ethnic or any other kinds of conflicts.”
“The myth is that the conflict is wrongly perceived of as frozen. In reality, a crawling annexation of Georgian territory is underway; so it is not frozen and is starting to explode,” Bezhuashvili said.
He also reiterated that Georgia is sparing no effort to avoid a confrontation.
“The successful country does not need a trouble… Those who are expecting Georgia to lose its patience will be totally frustrated… We are cool as never before, because we know what to do and how to do it,” he added.
He said that Russia is sending “mixed signals” through telling the international community that it recognizes Georgia’s territorial integrity and on the other hand telling secessionist authorities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia that “there is a Kosovo model, so you may succeed.”
“The Russians made it clear that they will link the Kosovo model to other secessionist conflicts and this is Georgia’s concern,” he added.
“So there is zero motivation from the Abkhaz and South Ossetians to sit down and discuss a model of co-existence. These mixed messages kill this motivation,” Bezhuashvili said.
He suggested that for some people in Europe, the status quo might be the best way to avoid trouble in its neighborhood.
“No news from Georgia is a good news - that is a philosophy we are going to break. There will be news from Georgia - positive. We are going to wake up everyone… We need to do something,” Bezhuashvili said.
President Saakashvili’s speech at the UN General Assembly Session on September 22 will most likely be along the same lines as that given by Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili at the Heritage Foundation.