Negotiators and mediators of the Geneva talks, launched after the August 2008 war, said that the recent, twenty-ninth round of discussions, held on October 8, took place in a “business-like” and “constructive atmosphere”, but no progress was reported.
Talks, known as the Geneva International Discussions, are held with the participation of negotiators from Georgia, Russia, and the United States, as well as from Tskhinvali and Sokhumi. Talks, which are co-chaired by representatives from the EU, UN and OSCE, are held in two working groups – one addressing security issues on the ground, among them international security arrangements and non-use of force, and another one addressing humanitarian issues.
Unlike the previous round in June, when representatives from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali walked out of discussions, this time participants were able to complete the session.
Georgian chief negotiator, deputy foreign minister, Davit Zalkaliani, said that in the view of attempts by participants from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali to change the format of the talks during the previous round, holding of the recent round in its established format in itself was an achievement.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the meeting was held in a “business-like atmosphere” and negotiators in the both working groups discussed “all agenda items.”
But the Russian Foreign Ministry said in its statement that discussion of issues related to refugees “has been postponed” and the Foreign Ministry of breakaway Abkhazia said that the issue of refugees “was not discussed” due to position of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali. The breakaway regions, backed by Moscow, say that they will not discuss the issue as long as Tbilisi pushes every year resolution on return of internally displaced persons at the UN General Assembly.
Describing return of internally displaced persons and refugees as “one of the principal agenda items” of the working group II, which addresses humanitarian issues, the Georgian Foreign Ministry welcomed, what it called, co-chairs’ “call to advance discussions” on this issue and to “make further efforts in this direction.”
In their joint press statement after the talks, co-chairs said that in working group II, the participants “addressed humanitarian issues by reviewing the developments that occurred on the ground since the previous round. Amongst others, they discussed issues such as freedom of movement, missing persons, cultural heritage and access to water.”
In the working group I, which addresses security-related issues, non-use of force commitment is one of the key issues of discussions. Georgia, which made unilateral non-use of force pledge in 2010, insists on Russia to reciprocate.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that at the recent round its representatives have again “expressed its dismay over Russia’s continuous refusal to reciprocate Georgia’s non-use of force pledge.”
Russia refuses to make such declaration as it does not consider itself to be a party in the conflict and instead wants Tbilisi to sign non-use of force treaties with Sokhumi and Tskhinvali – something that Tbilisi is strongly against. In the Geneva talks participants have been discussing possibility of adopting a joint statement on non-use of force for a long time already. Tbilisi wants the text of such statement to make a reference to the need of Moscow to undertake non-use of force pledge.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that at the recent round of talks, participants from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali noted that the need for bilateral non-use of force treaties between them and Tbilisi “has increased significantly in the view of decisions taken in respect of Georgia at the recent NATO summit.”
“As an affective step in this direction, Russian draft of joint statement of all the participants on non-use of force and security guarantees was discussed,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The co-chairs said that the participants exchanged views on non-use of force and international security arrangements, and agreed “to continue working on a draft joint statement by participants on non-use of force” at the next round of talks in December.
Echoing Georgia’s position, the U.S., whose representatives also participate in the Geneva talks, said in a statement on October 10 that future discussions should lead to “progress on reversing ‘borderization,’ removing restrictions on freedom of movement along the administrative boundary lines, and concluding a non-use of force agreement between Georgia and Russia.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said, participants “positively noted stability on the borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia with Georgia, which is becoming a stronger pattern.” It also said that “lowering of tensions and emotional rhetoric from the both sides and trend towards normalization of situation in the border areas” were also noted.
Co-chairs from the EU, UN and OSCE said that all participants “reconfirmed their commitment to the Geneva discussions as an important platform to strengthen the security and stability on the ground” and agreed to hold next, thirtieth round of talks on December 9-10, 2014.