Representatives of Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and the United States, plus the United Nations, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), gathered on July 1 in Geneva for the sixth round of talks on measures to improve security and humanitarian conditions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the wake of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war that precipitated Russia's formal recognition of those two regions as independent states.
The convening of talks on enhanced security mechanisms for those regions was one of the six points of the EU-mediated cease-fire agreement of August 12, 2008, that ended the fighting.
The first three rounds of Geneva talks, beginning in October, yielded little of substance; the fourth, in mid-February, was notable
for the signing of an agreement titled "Proposals for Joint Mechanisms for Averting and Reacting to Incidents" intended to reduce the potential for isolated incidents on the border between the two regions and the rest of Georgia to escalate into major clashes.
The July 1 talks, which EU special representative Pierre Morel described as "constructive," albeit "sometimes difficult, but not dramatic," followed the same format as previous sessions, with separate working groups focusing on security and humanitarian issues.
Security issues with regard to both breakaway regions have acquired a new urgency in recent weeks following the expiry of the mandates of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and the OSCE monitoring mission in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali. In a statement
released on the eve of the Geneva talks, the Russian Foreign Ministry duly noted that changed situation, arguing that it necessitates "a serious reassessment of the format and perspectives" of those talks.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin was quoted
as saying in Geneva that alternative possibilities do exist for enhancing security, and that they were discussed during the meeting. He said that discussion will be continued at the seventh round of Geneva talks, which is scheduled for September 17. Karasin warned at the same time that the situation in the region is becoming increasingly unstable and unpredictable due to the ongoing domestic political tensions in Georgia.
At the security working group session in Geneva, the Georgian and Russian representatives exchanged written proposals
on the non-use of military force. For years prior to last summer's fighting, Russia repeatedly called for the signing of such a pledge between the Georgian government on the one hand and the leaderships of the two breakaway regions on the other, but Tbilisi refused point-blank to do so. Under the memorandum signed between Russia and the EU in Moscow on September 8, 2008, the EU guaranteed that Georgia would not use force against either of the breakaway regions.
Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria was quoted
by Ekho Moskvy on July 1 as having said in Geneva that Georgia is prepared to sign a formal agreement on the non-use of force in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but with Russia, not the regions in question, which it does not recognize as subjects of international law. Bokeria added that in return for signing the pact with Russia, Georgia insists on the "deoccupation of Georgian territories and the deployment in Abkhazia and South Ossetia of international peacekeeping forces with police functions."
But "Eurasia View" on June 30 quoted an unnamed Western official as dismissing as "wishful thinking" Georgian hopes that the EU monitors currently deployed on the Georgian side of the border with Abkhazia and South Ossetia will eventually be granted access to the two breakaway regions and then replaced there by an international police force.