Russia has raised again Georgia’s NATO integration during the Geneva talks on July 1, just like at the previous round of discussions three months ago, saying that it poses “security threat to the South Caucasus” and therefore is in conflict with the provisions of the August 2008 ceasefire agreement.
Geneva talks, launched after the August 2008 war, involve negotiators from Georgia, Russia, and the United States, as well as from Tskhinvali and Sokhumi.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 2 that NATO’s intention to establish “field infrastructure” in Georgia is of “particular concern”. The reference was apparently made to NATO-Georgia Joint Training and Evaluation Center (JTEC), which is planned to be opened this year.
The Russian MFA also said “regular military exercises on the Georgian territory with the recent one held with the participation of the American troops and military hardware in an immediate proximity from the South Ossetian border” is of “particular concern” as well.
Two-week long joint U.S-Georgian military exercises, Noble Partner, were held in May at the Vaziani training area, east from Tbilisi, about 130 kilometers from Tskhinvali.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that during the Geneva talks its representative noted “destabilizing effect on the situation in the Black Sea” of “frequent” visits of the U.S. warships. The U.S. guided-missile destroyer Laboon (DDG-58) from the 6th Fleet made a port visit in Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast on June 27-29.
The Geneva International Discussions, 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 concerning international security arrangements and non-use of force, and another addressing humanitarian issues.
The co-chairs said in a joint statement after the 32nd round of talks that they “were encouraged to see a debate which was frank and open despite existing divergent views.”
The Georgian Foreign Ministry said that the negotiations at this recent round were “constructive” and the Russian Foreign Ministry described discussions as “sharp, but substantial.” In a statement after the talks the U.S. delegation welcomed “the constructive discussion on agenda items in both working groups.”
“In Working Group I dealing with security issues, the participants assessed the overall security situation on the ground as stable and calm. The participants exchanged views on the non-use of force, international security arrangements, as well as freedom of movement and travel abroad. They continued to work on a draft joint statement by all participants on non-use of force,” co-chairs from the EU, UN and OSCE said in their statement.
The non-use of force commitment is one of the key issues discussed by the negotiators for many rounds already. Georgia, which made a unilateral non-use of force pledge in 2010, insists on Russia to reciprocate. But Russia refuses to make such a 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. In the Geneva talks participants have been discussing a 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 Georgian Foreign Ministry said that the issue of the return of internationally displaced persons and refugees “was also discussed in substance.”
Co-chairs, however, said that “while issues relating to IDPs and refugees were raised, it is regrettable that a comprehensive dialogue on this topic could not take place.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said that representatives from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali reiterated their refusal to engage in discussion of return of IDPs and refugees at the Geneva talks as long as Tbilisi pushes the resolution on IDPs at the UN General Assembly yearly.
Co-chairs said that in the working group II the participants touched upon issues relating to language of instruction in schools in predominantly ethnic Georgian populated district of breakaway Abkhazia, as well as freedom of movement and mobility, missing persons, environmental and cultural heritage.
The U.S. delegation expressed hope that in upcoming rounds “participants can achieve tangible results that would remove restrictions on freedom of movement, provide closure on cases related to missing persons, and resolve outstanding concerns about language of instruction in Gali district schools.”
The next round of the Geneva talks has been scheduled for October 6-7, 2015.