The 42nd round of Geneva International Discussions (GID) - the multilateral mediation forum to address security and humanitarian consequences of the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008 - was held on December 12-13.
The GID are co-chaired by the representatives of the OSCE, EU and UN, and involve 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
The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement regarding the December 12-13 negotiations, saying their main subject were “the severe consequences of the ethnic discrimination against the Georgians remaining in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, and the issue of non-use of force and establishment of the international security mechanisms.”
The Georgian side pressed the issue of “Russia’s non-compliance with the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008,” and stressed that Russian militarization of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions contributed to destabilization of the situation on the ground.
Tbilisi representatives at the GID expressed their concern regarding “continuation of the process of integration of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions into the Russian Federation,” including the latest steps such as the establishment of a Russian customs office in Abkhazia and “statements by the Russian occupation regime in Tskhinvali about creating a similar unit in Akhalgori.”
According to the Georgian MFA statement, a “sharp discussion” was conducted on the placement of barriers at the occupation line, as well as on the closure of crossing points on the line, freedom of movement for local farmers, and their illegal detentions. The MFA added that ethnic discrimination of Georgians residing in the two regions was stressed during the talks, including pressure on the Gali Georgians to change their surnames and identity, destruction of the homes of the Georgians in the ethnically cleansed village of Eredvi in Tskhinvali Region, and restriction of the Georgian-language education for children in Gali and Akhalgori districts.
The Georgian diplomats at the GID “stressed the necessity for Russia to commit to and fulfill the non-use of force obligation and for this to be guaranteed by international security mechanisms.”
According to the MFA, “the co-chairs and participants from Georgia and the U.S. called upon the representatives of Russia and its occupation regimes to approach the Geneva format responsibly and engage in negotiations regarding safe and dignified return of the internally displaced persons and refugees. Despite this, they once again attempted to politicize humanitarian matters and left the negotiations room during the discussion of the displaced persons issue.”
Tbilisi-based administration of Abkhazia also issued a statement about the latest round of the Geneva talks, highlighting ethnic discriminations of Georgians, protection of cultural sites in the occupied territories and the necessity to prosecute the murderer of Giga Otkhozoria, among other issues.
Positions taken: Russia, Tskhinvali, Sokhumi
The statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry (MID) speaks about “harmfulness of the U.S. State Department decision to allow the sale of the Javelin anti-armor missile systems to Georgia,” saying that “this largest military deal between Washington and Tbilisi since 2008 is, in fact, pushing Georgia into new dangerous adventures.”
The statement also reads that “in this context Abkhazia and South Ossetia confirmed that they find the support Russia is providing them in the defense sphere justified and timely,” and accuses the Georgian side of “blocking” the statement on non-use of force.
The Russian Foreign Ministry also criticized the Georgian Embassy in the United Kingdom for trying to remove the Abkhazian War monument in the Scottish city of Kilmarnock in its current form.
The statement from the Russian-backed Sokhumi authorities regarding the talks said that “after long negotiations the sides were not able to agree on the final version of the text of the statement” on non-use of force, while Tskhinvali statement accused Tbilisi of “aggressive revanchist rhetoric,” and expressed concern about “widening of the NATO military presence in Georgia” and the Javelin missiles.
Positions taken: the United States
The U.S. GID delegation said in its press statement that “participants made progress toward agreement on a non-use of force statement,” but “expressed concerns over increasing restrictions that are limiting access in Abkhazia,” calling for reopening of two crossing points and “the rescission of a policy restricting the rights of ethnic Georgians in Abkhazia.”
The U.S. representatives stressed that physical barriers on the “Administrative Boundary Lines” restrict freedom of movement and “jeopardize the health, safety, and welfare of local residents.”
The American statement reads that “the United States also noted that the reported recent demolition of houses belonging to Georgian Internally Displaced Persons in the Eredvi village of South Ossetia is not acceptable by any international norms and underscored our continued recognition of Georgian IDPs’ rights to return to their homes in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”
The press statement also says that “the United States regrets that participants were not able to complete discussions across the full GID agenda, including a discussion of internally displaced persons, because of a walk-out in Working Group II”.
The GID co-chairs issued their own press communiqué, saying that “participants reviewed the overall situation on the ground and assessed it as relatively calm and stable,” and listing among the discussed issues non-use of force, detentions, access to farmland and transparency on military activities, impact on people’s livelihoods of recent environmental challenges, obstacles to the freedom of movement, property rights, personal documentation, education and irrigation-related issues.
The press communiqué, also notes that “due to long-standing divergent approaches to the issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs)/refugees, it was again impossible to complete discussion of all agenda items,” adding that “in this context, the Co-Chairs regretted the walkout of some participants that led to a disruption of this round.”
The December 12-13 round of the Geneva talks was the first for the new EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and the crisis in Georgia, and a GID co-chair, Toivo Klaar. The next round of the GID is scheduled for March 27-28, 2018.