The fifth round of talks between Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia on security and humanitarian issues in the aftermath of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war took place in Geneva on May 18-19. International mediators told journalists afterwards that "some progress" was made; they did not elaborate.
In early May, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba warned that the participation of Abkhaz representatives was contingent on the wording of the report on the situation in Abkhazia that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was to submit to the UN Security Council on May 15. Shamba warned
that if the report continued to refer to Abkhazia as part of Georgia, and if the UN mission deployed in Abkhazia was referred to by its previous title of UN Observer Mission in Georgia, Abkhaz representatives would not travel to Geneva for the talks.
Ban's report was not, however, made available as expected on May 15, and on May 16 the Abkhaz announced they would not attend the Geneva talks. The meeting nonetheless opened as planned on May 18, but the Russian and South Ossetian representatives immediately advocated adjourning them for 24 hours on the assumption that the UN report would be made available and the Abkhaz would show up -- which they did.
Ban's report has not yet been posted on the UN website, but Russian media quoted Shamba as saying it meets the Abkhaz requirements. The title refers to compliance with earlier Security Council resolutions prolonging the mandate of the observer mission in Georgia, but does not mention either Georgia or Abkhazia.
On May 19, the two working groups -- on security and humanitarian issues -- duly convened in Geneva. The discussions lasted some 3 1/2 hours, according to the Russian daily "Kommersant" on May 20. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, who headed the Russian delegation, said Russia continues to insist on the signing of formal binding agreements between Georgia and Abkhazia, and Georgia and South Ossetia, on the nonuse of military force as what Karasin termed "the sole guarantee" of a nonresumption of hostilities.
But Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Gia Bokeria told RFE/RL's Georgian Service
on May 19 that Tbilisi considers that only "hard-core security measures," in particular the deployment in Abkhazia and South Ossetia of an international police force, are an essential component of the new security provisions envisaged in the August 12 cease-fire agreement.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) envoy Charalampos Christopoulos for his part said after the May 19 talks that "We are also moving forward on humanitarian questions, including on water, where the OSCE is playing a specific role." But U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza told Reuters the Russian delegates showed "some hesitation" to discuss human rights issues.
The UN, European Union, and OSCE officials who jointly mediated the Geneva talks issued a statement on May 19 saying that "all participants recommitted themselves to the implementation of the joint incident-prevention and response mechanisms agreed at the last round of Geneva discussions [in mid-February
]. The mechanisms remain the best way for all sides to respond swiftly and adequately to security incidents on the ground."
It is not clear whether the Geneva working group on security discussed the proposals for a new security framework in Abkhazia reportedly outlined in Ban's newest report to the Security Council. As noted above, that assessment is not available online, but his February report
to the Security Council proposed the following as the "basis for an effective security regime":
- Strict observation of the cease-fire signed on August 12, 2008
- A "security zone" on both sides of the cease-fire line where the presence of armed forces and equipment (except for police) would not be allowed
- A ban on overflights of the security zone by military aircraft and drones
- Advance notification of any changes in the deployment of military personnel to the security zones
- The designation by each conflict party of authorized representatives who would liaise on both a regular and ad hoc basis with a view to preventing "incidents."
That final proposal was addressed at the previous round of Geneva talks in mid-February.
The next round of Geneva talks has been scheduled for July 1.