Results of twenty fourth round of Geneva talks, held on June 26, causes “sense of disappointment and concern about prospects of this important format” of negotiations, launched after the August, 2008 war, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Georgian negotiators, who are strongly against of any change in existing format of the Geneva talks, said in reference to representatives from Tskhinvali and Sokhumi, that “destructive approach of some participants” hindered discussions.
“What we faced was persisting attempt of some participants to achieve the change of format by walking out from one working group and joining other,” First Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia, Davit Zalkaliani, said.
Talks, known as Geneva International Discussions, are co-chaired by representatives from EU, UN and OSCE and involve negotiators from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali. They are taking part in the discussions in an individual capacity without identifying the entities they are representing and formally they are referred to as “participants” in order to avoid differences on the status of negotiators, in particular of representatives from the breakaway regions. Geneva talks are held in the format of two working groups with the first one discussing security-related issues and the second one – humanitarian issues.
Having all the participants at a same meeting, outside working groups, has been viewed by the Georgian negotiators as an attempt to change usual setting of talks.
The co-chairs from EU, UN and OSCE said in a joint press statement that although participants in both working groups discussed whole range of issues, they were not able to complete agendas “due to the lack of consensus on organizational matters.”
The U.S., whose representative is also part of the Geneva discussions, said in a statement after the talks: “We regret that some participants chose to cut short their participation in Working Group II, ending discussion on important humanitarian issues and challenging an agreed format that has endured for almost five years.”
Non-use of force and international security arrangements represent one of the key issues regularly discussed at the Geneva talks. Work on the draft of joint statement on non-use of force continued, but as Georgia’s chief negotiator put it, “irreconcilable differences” made it impossible to make a progress.
“We are constructively engaged in drafting process to reflect our principled position. Yet, let me reiterated again that progress in our endeavor can be possible to achieve only if the Russian side makes unilateral, legally binding declaration on non-use of force,” the Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in its statement: “Because of unconstructive position of the Georgian delegation, it was not possible to make progress in discussions on the draft text of statement by all the participants of the Geneva process on non-use of force.”
Breakaway Abkhazia’s Foreign Ministry said that the Georgian side “blocked” working on drafting of joint statement on non-use of force. “The Georgian representatives pushed for an illegitimate condition to include in title of the document a reference on the need for the Russian declaration on non-use of force,” it said.
Georgia made unilateral non-use of force commitment in 2010. Russia refuses to reciprocate, citing that it is not a party into the conflict and instead is calling for a binding non-use of force treaties between Tbilisi and Tskhinvali, as well as between Tbilisi and Sokhumi.
In the working group I, discussing security-related issues, the Georgian side raised the issue of installing fences by the Russian troops across the administrative boundary line of breakaway South Ossetia and digging trenches at the Abkhaz administrative border.
The co-chairs of the Geneva talks called this process “regrettable” and said it “reportedly affected the freedom of movement and livelihood of local populations.”
The U.S. said in the statement after the talks that its representative “joined the co-chairs and the Georgian participants in expressing deep concern over the accelerated installation of physical barriers” along the administrative boundary lines, “noting such ‘borderization’ contradicts international law and practice, as well as the commitments made by the Russian Federation in the August 12, 2008 six-point ceasefire agreement.”
Representatives from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali say that this process is part of development border infrastructure and Tbilisi should engage in talks on “delimitation and demarcation of the state border.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that Sokhumi and Tskhinvali saw no reason in discussing issues related to refugees and displaced persons in the Geneva talks while Georgia kept on pushing a relevant resolution annually at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) in the condition when Abkhaz and South Ossetian representatives had no opportunity to speak about their position at the UNGA.
One of the issues discussed in the working group II was related to persons missing since the August, 2008 war. A representative of OSCE’s Ukrainian chairmanship, Andrii Deshchytsia, welcomed the commitment from the Georgian and South Ossetian sides to address the issue of missing persons and mentioned in this context a meeting in May between Georgian chief prosecutor, Archil Kbilashvili, and relatives of three missing South Ossetians, whose case has been re-opened by the Georgian authorities. Meanwhile, the Georgian side raised the issue of a Georgian young man who went missing shortly after the August 2008 war.
EU’s special representative for South Caucasus, Philippe Lefort, who is a co-chair of the Geneva discussions said that the process of negotiations had ups and downs, but in overall the process was moving in the right direction.
UN representative, Antti Turunen, said that the twenty-fourth round of talks were “open and frank”, adding that despite of obvious divergences on some of the issues, all the participants remain committed to continue the discussions within the Geneva talks.
The next, twenty-fifth round of talks, has been scheduled for October 16, 2013.