The withdrawal of Georgian troops from upper Kodori Gorge and the signing of a treaty on the on-use of force is “the only way” to defuse tensions, the Kremlin said after President Dmitry Medvedev met with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Moscow on July 18.
“It was underlined that the only way out of the current situation is to accept joint binding documents on the non-use of force and on security guarantees, as well as the withdrawal of Georgian troops from the upper Kodori Gorge,” the statement released by the Kremlin after the meeting reads.
It also said: “Only these steps can unblock the negotiating process between Sokhumi and Tbilisi. As soon these steps are undertaken, the sooner will it be possible to resolve other difficult and sensitive aspects of the Georgian-Abkhaz settlement.”
The return of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia and the status of the breakaway region constitute “difficult and sensitive aspects” for the Russian side.
The German foreign minister, who prior to visiting Moscow, held talks with the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships over the Berlin-proposed three stage plan, met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on July 18 before meeting the Russian president.
Although Lavrov said that the German plan was “a step in the right direction,” he also reiterated Moscow’s position that a treaty on the non-use of force should be in the first phase, rather than the return of displaced persons.
“This is a step in the right direction. A settlement can only go stage by stage,” Lavrov told journalists after meeting with his German counterpart.
“This plan supports the Russian idea that it is necessary first of all to make the parties sign an agreement on the non-use of force. But there is one more problem: in particular, it has been proposed that an agreement on the return of refugees be signed simultaneously with this plan. This is absolutely unrealistic.”
He then reiterated his earlier remarks on the matter and said: “In any conflict, the return of refugees is an issue to be discussed at one of the next stages [of the conflict resolution process], after the situation is calm and after confidence is restored. I have already referred to the example of Palestinian refugees, whose return is being discussed as one of the aspects of the settlement, and I have also talked about the Serbs who were expelled from Kosovo. This is a very sensitive theme… So we are moving in the right direction now, and the final say will rest with both parties.”
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said in response to Russia’s position that Moscow’s attempt to separate IDP return and a treaty on the non-use of force and its exclusive concentration on the latter, was an obvious attempt to delay the process of return, which in itself, Tbilisi said, amounted to an attempt “to legalize the results of ethnic cleansing” committed during the armed conflict in the early 90s in Abkhazia.
Officials in Tbilisi are opposed to a treaty on the non-use of force without firm guarantees and a detailed timeframe and terms for IDP and refugee return, initially to Gali and Ochamchire districts of Abkhazia. Tbilisi also refuses to sign such a treaty on the grounds that Russian peacekeeping forces currently stationed in the Abkhaz conflict zone can not act as guarantors of any agreement.
Tbilisi also opposes the withdrawal of its police forces from upper Kodori Gorge. The restoration of Georgian central government control over this strategic part of breakaway Abkhazia is always cited by the Saakashvili administration as one of its most important achievements.