International negotiations in Geneva designed to build confidence between Russia and Georgia have broken down over Moscow's demand that representatives from the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia be allowed to participate fully.
What was supposed to be the first face-to-face meeting between Georgian and Russian officials since the two nations fought a brief war in August ended in acrimony.
The October 15 talks in Geneva were rescheduled for November 18 with each side blaming the other for breakdown. EU envoy Pierre Morel told a briefing that the negotiations hit an impasse due to "procedural difficulties."
The Russian delegation insisted that representatives of the pro-Moscow separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia be allowed to take part in the talks as full participants, something Georgia opposed.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said Russia's "position on this account is clear and has not changed. Any drawing up of agreements concerning the guarantee of security is impossible without the participation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We remain firm on this stand."
Georgian officials say Tbilisi was prepared to accept meeting with separatist leaders from the two regions, but only informally and only if pro-Georgian representatives of those areas were also included. Moscow opposed those conditions.
Georgian officials say the format of the talks was agreed to on October 9 and that Russia only made its demand on the eve of the negotiations, and then scuttled the talks when their demand was not accommodated.
In addition to Georgian and Russia officials, the talks were set to include representatives from the United States, the European Union, the UN, and the OSCE.
Georgia Blames Russia
In remarks to reporters in Brussels, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Russia of walking out on the talks, calling the move evidence that Moscow "has no interest whatsoever at this stage in any diplomatic process."
Deputy Georgian Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, the head of the Georgian delegation in Geneva, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service after the talks that he remains optimistic that progress will be made when the meetings resume in November.
"We hope that this time the Russian Federation will attend the plenary session," Bokeria said. "My hope is based on the assumption that Euro-Atlantic unity will continue to manifest itself in terms of pressuring Russia to comply with its international commitments. Among these things is the cease-fire it signed on August 12."
The talks were organized by the European Union, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and were meant to build confidence and follow-up on a cease-fire brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that ended five days of fighting between Russia and Georgia in early August.
Months of skirmishes between pro-Moscow separatists in South Ossetia and Georgian troops erupted into war on August 7-8 when Georgia sent troops and tanks into the breakaway region. Russia subsequently intervened massively, driving the Georgian army out of the region and pushing deep into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further attacks.
On October 9, Russia largely pulled out of Georgia proper, including nearly all buffer zones adjacent to the rebel regions ahead of an October 10 deadline as stipulated by an EU-backed cease-fire.
Russia pressed hard for representatives from South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- another pro-Moscow separatist region -- to be included in the talks as full participants. In the aftermath of the conflict, Moscow recognized both provinces as independent, but the only other country to follow suit was Nicaragua.
Georgian officials say Tbilisi could accept meeting with separatist leaders from the two regions, but only informally and only if pro-Georgian representatives of those areas are also included.
The two sides' demands and agendas in the talks are also worlds apart.
Russia is pushing for an arms embargo against Georgia, arguing that it is necessary to prevent further "aggression."
Georgia, for its part, is furious that Russia has more than tripled its troop strength in Abkhazia and South Ossetia from 2,500 peacekeepers in the two regions before the war to a planned 7,600 heavily armed troops.
Tbilisi calls this a violation of the cease-fire agreement, which says that both sides must withdraw their troops to positions held before the conflict broke out on August 7. Georgia also insists that Russian forces withdraw from South Ossetia's Akhalgori district and the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia -- both of which Tbilisi controlled before the war.
Tbilisi is also insisting that tens of thousands of ethnic Georgians displaced by the conflict be allowed to return to their homes in South Ossetia, a demand that Moscow and its clients in Tskhinvali are resisting.