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Abkhazia Does U-Turn Over Geneva Talks


Observers from an EU monitoring mission in the village of Odzisi, about 50 kilometers from the Georgian capital, in late 2008

Observers from an EU monitoring mission in the village of Odzisi, about 50 kilometers from the Georgian capital, in late 2008

Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia will, after all, send a delegation to attend the next round of internationally mediated talks in Geneva on security measures for Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the wake of the August 2008 war, Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Shamba told journalists in Sukhumi on July 23. One month earlier, on June 23, Abkhaz presidential-administration head Nadir Bitiyev had announced that Abkhazia would not attend the next round of talks, scheduled for July 27.

The Geneva talks bring together at the negotiating table representatives from Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, and mediators from the United States, the European Union, and the OSCE. The initial Abkhaz decision to boycott next week's meeting was triggered by the Abkhaz delegation's perception that the international mediators are unwilling to pressure Georgia to sign a binding agreement with Abkhazia and South Ossetia on the non-resumption of hostilities. Over the past 12 years, Georgia has undertaken four separate attempts to restore its control over those breakaway regions by force (in Abkhazia in 1998 and 2001, and in South Ossetia in 2004 and 2008).

Explaining Abkhazia's rationale, Bitiyev stressed that "no one doubts the expediency" of the Geneva talks. But he went on to complain that the proposals of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides are ignored, and the discussion of an agreement on the non-resumption of hostilities is relegated to the back burner in favor of "secondary issues" that have no bearing on security.

Bitiyev said Abkhazia's "suspension" of participation in the talks was intended to give the international mediators time to formulate a draft agreement abjuring the use of force that would be acceptable to Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. Georgia has consistently said it is willing to sign an agreement with Russia on the non-use of force, but not with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it does not consider independent actors.

Tbilisi has also rejected an alternative proposal by Russia that each side should issue a unilateral statement abjuring the use of force, Russian Ambassador to the OSCE Anvar Azimov told the OSCE's Permanent Council in Vienna on July 1.

Shamba on July 23 attributed Abkhazia's volte face to unspecified "negotiations." Caucasus Press of July 13 reported that the UN mediator at the Geneva talks, Finnish diplomat Antti Turunen, briefed de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh in Sukhumi earlier this month on the content of a new draft agreement on the nonuse of force. Bagapsh and Shamba also met on July 14 with the EU special representative for the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, who has consistently sought ways of expanding dialogue with Abkhazia on the basis of "engagement without recognition." It is not clear whether they discussed the Geneva talks.

The Abkhaz leadership may also have been encouraged by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement in Tbilisi on July 5 that "we support the use of the Geneva mechanism but it needs to be revived, and it needs to be intensified, and we intend to try to do that."

But Shamba added the caveat that Abkhazia would assess "whether the mediators have drawn [the appropriate] conclusion from our statements or not." If that proves not to have been the case, Shamba continued, "of course we see no point in participating in discussions where the mediators unequivocally take Georgia's side."

Whether or not South Ossetia will send a delegation to Geneva remains unclear. Following Bitiyev's announcement last month that Abkhazia would not attend the next round of talks, Boris Chochiyev, who heads the South Ossetian delegation, warned that South Ossetia would not attend either unless the mediators presented a draft agreement on the nonuse of force at a meeting scheduled for July 12 in Tskhinvali. On July 23, Chochiyev told the news agency Regnum that Tskhinvali continued to regard the drafting of such a document as a priority. He went on to endorse as an interim measure the Russian proposal that the three sides should each sign a unilateral agreement with international organizations pledging not to resort to military force.

Meanwhile in Tbilisi, several dozen internally displaced persons from Abkhazia staged protests on July 22 outside President Mikheil Saakashvili's Tbilisi residence and on July 23 outside the Economy and Development Ministry to demand decent accommodation. Some 300 families of displaced persons had been ordered two weeks earlier to vacate within five days the temporary accommodation they had occupied for the past two years. Representatives of several Georgian opposition parties also participated in the protests.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.

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