Responding to Civil.ge query, Georgian MFA confirmed “small progress” has been made on non-use of force document at Geneva International Discussions (GID), but said that “fundamental differences in participants’ approaches” remained, preventing “any significant progress.”
The statement follows the comment by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who expressed confidence “that in the foreseeable future it is realistic to sign a legally binding document on non-use of force” while speaking at a press-conference during his April 18-19 visit to Abkhazia.
Lavrov’s statement followed the 39th Round of GID held on 28-29 March. Commenting on the meeting in his April 10 interview, Günther Bächler, who represents OSCE at GID, said the round “was extremely fruitful; we came close to a non-use of force statement, there are talks between Russia and Georgia about that.”
Background: Non-Use of Force Discussions
The Geneva International Discussions, is a multilateral mediation forum co-Chaired by the EU, OSCE and UN, which was created after the 2008 war to address security and humanitarian issues. It involves representatives from Tbilisi and Moscow, as well as Tskhinvali and Sokhumi (both Moscow-backed authorities and the authorities ‘in exile’ based in Tbilisi) in their individual capacities.
The non-use of force (NUF) commitment is one of the key issues on GID agenda. The August 2008 ceasefire agreement, as well as the September 2008 document on its implementation modalities, refer to the need for such a commitment, accompanied by unspecified International Security Arrangements (ISA).
Ideally, Tbilisi would like to see the binding non-use of force commitment from Russia guaranteed by international peacekeeping - or as a minimum, peace monitoring - deployment. Since Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), originally intended as a core part of ISA, is not allowed to enter either of these two regions.
Regarding NUF, President Mikheil Saakashvili, speaking at the European Parliament took the unilateral obligation not to use force in 2010. Following the change of Parliament majority, this commitment was reiterated by the legislature in March 2013, and yet again after the general elections in December 2016. The commitment not to use force also forms a part of Georgia’s Association Agreement with the European Union.
The 2010 statement by President Saakashvili was reciprocated by Sokhumi and Tskhinvali leaderships, which has no legal weight from Tbilisi’s point of view. Importantly, Russia, which invaded Georgia militarily in 2008 and stations its troops in both regions, did not reciprocate. Recent formal amalgamation of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian troops under the Russian command makes NUF statement from Russia ever more relevant in Tbilisi’s eyes.
In framework of GID, Georgia has insisted on Russia to make the binding NUF pledge. Russia refuses, claiming it is not a party in the conflict. Instead, Moscow wants Tbilisi to sign non-use of force treaties with Sokhumi and Tskhinvali, which in Georgia’s eyes would amount to formal recognition of the two territories.
Failing to reach a consensus on this point, the co-Chairs of GID put forward a text of a non-use-of-force declaration, which has been considered since early 2012. Such a declaration need not be signed, but could be made in the name of participants by the GID co-Chairs.
Since the GID participants are engaged in their “personal capacity” rather than as official actors (to sidestep the matter of status of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia representatives), it is unlikely that such a statement can be considered as legally binding. Tbilisi thus insisted, that to agree to such a declaration, it had to be preceded by Russia’s formal pledge not to use force against Georgia.