Co-chairs of the Geneva talks, launched after the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, noted after the twenty seventh round of discussions on March 26 that relatively calm and stable situation prevailed on the ground.
Representatives from the EU, UN and OSCE, who co-chair the talks, however, also noted “with concern the resumption of installation of fences and other obstacles along the administrative boundary lines, as well as alleged airspace violations”.
Talks, known as the Geneva International Discussions, involve negotiators, or as they are formally called “participants”, from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali. Talks are held in two working groups with the first one discussing security-related issues and the second one – humanitarian issues.
Georgian chief negotiator, first deputy foreign minister, Davit Zalkaliani, said after the talks that Russia’s recent moves in Ukraine demonstrated once again the need for Moscow to reciprocate to Tbilisi’s unilateral non-use of force pledge made in 2010.
“Today when we are witnessing growing assertiveness of Russia in its efforts to prevent neighboring countries from realizing their free foreign policy choice through violating their territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-use of force… commitment from the Russian side constitutes to a minimal mechanism preventing further aggression,” Zalkaliani said.
Russia refuses to make such declaration as it does not consider itself to be a party in the conflict. Participants have been discussing possibility of adopting a joint statement on non-use of force for a long time already in the Geneva talks. But Tbilisi is skeptical about such statement, insisting that the text should make a reference to the need of Moscow to undertake non-use of force pledge.
Zalkaliani said that the Georgian participants “spare no efforts to advance” drafting of the test, but also reiterated that “this statement should in no way substitute” need for Russia’s reciprocal non-use of force pledge.
Co-chairs said that an “expert drafting session” on the joint statement on non-use of force was reconvened in which “certain progress was registered.”
Russian chief negotiator, deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, said that it was possible to make “a little progress” on drafting of the text, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
He said that differences on key issues remain among them on making a reference in the text that would recognize “existence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” – opposed by Tbilisi. Karasin said that without such reference it would be unclear who are joining this joint statement.
Karasin said that since the change of government in Tbilisi, atmosphere at the Geneva talks became more “pragmatic.”
“Representatives from Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia moved from empty rhetoric and exchange of insults… to discussion of practical issues,” Karasin said.
The Georgian chief negotiator said that Russia’s “provocative actions”, including “build up of military infrastructure” and overflights of aircraft above the Georgian-controlled areas along the administrative boundary lines were raised by the Georgian participants. Zalkaliani also noted among these issues military exercises held by the Russian troops in the breakaway regions.
On March 21 the Russian Defense Ministry reported about launch of artillery drills at Nagvalou firing range in Ochamchire district with the participation of 400 servicemen and with the use of Grad multiple rocket launchers; Akatsia self-propelled howitzers; anti-tank complexes Shturm-S; man-portable air defence missile systems Igla and mortar launchers Sani. On March 26 the Russian Defense Ministry reported about launch of a separate three-week exercises involving sniper trainings at the same firing range.
Usually EU is represented at the Geneva talks as a co-chair with its special representative for the South Caucasus, but as the post remains still vacant, the EU this time was represented by Luis Felipe Fernández de la Peña, managing director for Europe and Central Asia at the European External Action Service.
He said that Ukraine was on “everybody’s mind”, but the participants kept the focus on substantive agenda of the Geneva talks.
UN representative, Antti Turunen, said that no progress has yet been made on resumption of meetings in frames of the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.
Angelo Gnädinger, special representative of the Swiss OSCE chairmanship for the South Caucasus, said that although in overall situation remained calm and stable, “there are situations where behavior on the one side or the other can be perceived as provocation by the other side.”
Next round of the Geneva talks will be held on June 17-18.