The co-chairs of the 23rd round of Geneva Talks, the EU’s Special Representative Philippe Lefort, the UN Representative Antti Turunen and the OSCE Special Representative for Conflicts Andrii Deshchytsia, declared that negotiations on the draft “statement of the Geneva International Discussions on non-use-of-force” would certainly continue. Whereas the first deputy foreign minister and head of the Georgian delegation, Davit Zalkaliani, welcomed the co-chairs’ efforts, he stressed that “this declaration [referring to the draft statement] should not be considered as a substitute for Russia’s unilateral pledge on non-use-of-force.”
President Mikheil Saakashvili unilaterally declared adherence to non-use-of-force while addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on November 23, 2010. To buttress the pledge, the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution restating the same aspiration on March 7, 2013. In the recent talks, the Georgian side reiterated its call on Moscow to reciprocate the move and fulfill its obligation. As Russia does not consider itself to be a party to the conflict, it contests this demand from the Georgian side. Tbilisi’s insistence that Russia should renounce the use of force is “completely unacceptable” for Moscow according to Grigory Karasin, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister and head of the Russian delegation.
Another important security issue put forward by Georgian delegates involved the so called “borderization” process along the occupation line in South Ossetia. According to Georgian delegates, South Ossetian authorities have recently intensified the installation of barbed wire fences in the yards and gardens of the residents of villages Tamarasheni-Dvani, Atotsi, Didi Khurvaleti, and Gugutiantkari, preventing locals from moving on their own properties and artificially creating barriers that reduce the population’s living standards.
The Georgian side insisted that the imposition of severe restrictions on the freedom of movement across the occupied regions negatively affects local inhabitants’ social and economic rights as well as their access to education and healthcare and blamed Russia for the violation of these fundamental human rights. In response, Karasin said that from December 2012 to March 2013, 31,300 persons and 7,200 vehicles had intersected the so called Georgian-Ossetian administrative boundary line (ABL). The corresponding numbers for the Georgian-Abkhazian ABL in the same period amount to 120,900 and 7,500, suggesting that the movement of the people residing within and in the vicinity of the conflict regions is not restricted, Karasin said. In an attempt to provide practical solutions to humanitarian and human rights issues, Georgia proposed that the South Ossetian side agrees on the restoration of gas supply to the Akhalgori district, which the latter has previously rejected.
While the negotiations produced no tangible results, the sides agreed to support humanitarian visits under the auspices of the UNHCR to facilitate interaction between the divided communities and preserve cultural heritage situated in the occupied territories. The issue of missing persons and the safe and dignified return of IDPs and refugees to the places of their original residence were also discussed, in contrast to previous rounds that have failed to address the issue of IDPs.
The Georgian side raised concerns over the Gali Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM), which is suspended since March 2012, and underlined the need to resume its operation. Sukhumi has denounced the head of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia (EUMM) Andrzej Tyszkiewicz as an “undesirable person on Abkhaz territory.”
After the discussions of the two working groups operating in the framework of the Geneva talks, a “short information meeting” took place. During a preceding round in November 2012, Sukhumi insisted that the working groups respectively focusing on security and humanitarian issues are merged. Against this backdrop, the co-chairs emphasized that the “short meeting” merely aimed to ensure better communication among the participants and should in “no way be interpreted as a change of format.”
The recent Geneva Talks confirmed that the general positions of the Georgian side remain unchanged with the new government. Nevertheless, before the Geneva meeting, Georgia’s State Minister for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili stressed that the new authorities are taking a “flexible and result-oriented approach,” reflected in avoiding radical rhetoric while addressing issues related to breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to Zakareishvili, this approach has already yielded results through the moderation of rhetoric coming from Sokhumi and Tskhinvali as well.
However, at a meeting of senior clerics from the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches shortly after the 23rd round of Geneva discussions, Abkhazia’s leader Alexander Ankvab stated that “ties between the Abkhaz clergy, Abkhaz Orthodox Christians and the Georgian Orthodox Church have long been lost and cannot be restored.” Hence, Zakareishvili’s assertion regarding the shift in rhetoric on the Abkhaz and Ossetian sides seems premature.