The 41st round of Geneva International Discussions (GID), a multilateral mediation forum to address security and humanitarian consequences of the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008, was held on October 10-11.
The GID involves representatives from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as members of both the Georgian exiled administrations of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and the two regions’ Russian-backed authorities.
Positions taken: Georgia
According to the Georgian Foreign Ministry (MFA), the main subject of this round of GID was “the continuing ethnic cleansing towards the Georgians still remaining in the occupied regions of Georgia, and Russia’s destructive actions.” The Georgian side highlighted the demolition of the houses belonging to the expelled Georgian population of village Eredvi, characterizing it as “the purposeful effort to eliminate the trace of Georgians in the occupied Tskhinvali Region and the continuation of the ethnic cleansing.”
The MFA also said that another issue on the agenda was “the ongoing ethnic discrimination in the Gali District” of Abkhazia region, including the pressure on the local Georgian residents by the Russian-backed authorities to change their Georgian surnames and ethnic identity into the Abkhaz ones.
Abolishment of the Georgian-language schools in Akhalgori and Gali districts – the only areas with remaining significant ethnic Georgian population in Tskhinvali Region and Abkhazia respectively – was also addressed.
The Georgian representatives in the Geneva talks stressed “practical annexation of the occupied territories of Georgia by Russia,” bringing up, as a recent example of this tendency, establishment in Sokhumi of a special customs post, covering whole Abkhazia, by the Russian Federal Customs Service.
The Georgian diplomats once again asked for Russia to make a commitment not to use force, and for international security mechanisms to be established in the occupied territories. They also highlighted the Russian non-compliance with the August 12 ceasefire agreement that ended the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, and the ongoing “militarization process and active military exercises in both occupied regions.”
The MFA said that Georgia has shown a “constructive approach” towards the draft joint statement by the Geneva talks participants on non-use of force, but Russia has kept refusing to discuss creation of international security mechanisms, “violating the commitment taken under Article 5 of the August 12, 2008 ceasefire agreement.”
The Tbilisi-based Abkhazian administration’s agenda for the 41st round of Geneva talks included “the hard social and humanitarian situation of the Georgians residing in Gali District, and violations of the fundamental human rights,” including “restriction of the rights of property, free movement and receiving education in the native language.”
Positions taken: Russia, Tskhinvali, Sokhumi
The Russian Foreign Ministry (MID) stressed its concern regarding “further deepening of the cooperation between Tbilisi and NATO,” saying it was seen as “a real threat for the regional security.”
The MID has indicated its particular displeasure with the NATO military exercises, held in Georgia in 2017, saying that “such actions of Tbilisi and the Alliance members divert from the goals of the Geneva discussions, devalue the work of this format, and lead to more tensions in the region.”
The Russian statement also denounced the latest NATO Parliamentary Assembly resolution regarding Georgia as “unacceptable and provocative.”
Moscow diplomats said they consider non-use of force as the key purpose of the Geneva talks, but refused to meet the Georgian side’s requests, calling Tbilisi’s position on the need for international security mechanisms “dogmatic.”
Representatives of the Russian-backed Sokhumi authorities stated that the talks’ participants again could not reach a compromise agreement on the text of the joint statement regarding non-use of force. Meanwhile, Tskhinvali’s statement repeated Russia’s concerns regarding NATO’s cooperation with Georgia.
Positions taken: the United States
The U.S. Delegation at the talks said in its statement it objected “to the closure of two controlled crossing points along the Abkhaz Administrative Boundary Line (ABL), and the continued placement of physical barriers and demarcation signs along both the Abkhaz and South Ossetia ABLs, in violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” stressing that “these actions restrict freedom of movement and damage the livelihoods of local residents.”
American representatives also protested against the demolition of the Georgians’ homes in Eredvi village, saying that “Georgians have a right to return to their homes,” while expressing “continued concern with the Abkhaz decision to suspend prosecution of a suspect in the killing of Georgian citizen Giga Otkhozoria.” The U.S. delegation stressed that “decisions such as these threaten to undermine the trust built up through the resumption of the Incident Prevention Response Mechanisms and undermine the Geneva International Discussions as a whole.”
Regarding the non-use of force issue, the U.S. diplomats “encouraged the parties to continue constructive negotiations aimed at achieving a mutually agreeable statement.”
The GID co-chairs issued a press communiqué as well, listing among the matters discussed “detentions along the dividing lines, access to farmland, exchange of information on military activities and the need to ensure justice for serious crimes,“ as well as consultations on the non-use of force statement.
Non-political issues were also discussed during the talks, in particular the agricultural threat in Western Georgia, including Abkhazia, posed by the invasion of the brown marmorated stink bug that has been destroying crops of the locals.
The next round of the Geneva International Discussions is scheduled for December 12-13, 2017.