THE ONLY FAULTY DECISION

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NEGOTIATIONS IN GENEVA OVER THE GEORGIAN-OSSETIAN CONFLICT ARE A NON-STARTER

Caucasus security talks in Geneva promise to be a waste of time and effort.


The second round of the talks over settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts begins in Geneva, Switzerland, today. What information is available indicates that Georgia is about to condemn Russia as a party concerned and therefore demand Russian peacekeepers’ replacement with an international contingent.

There was no saying until very recently whether the Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations would participate in the talks. Both insisted on being treated as fully-fledged participants. Georgia objected, of course, and so did the EU claiming that this treatment would imply recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as sovereign states.

A compromise was worked out and Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations departed Moscow for Geneva, yesterday. Their representatives were quoted as saying that “… it must have finally dawned on the Europeans that the talks will be pointless otherwise.”

And yet, it turned out yesterday that would-be participants of the talks had different notions on the status of the invited delegations. Unlike representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Georgian state minister for conflict settlement Temur Yakobashvili suggested in no uncertain terms that official status of the Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations was “out of the question”. Europe appears to be thinking along these lines too. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner who visited Tbilisi last week said that representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia would not be invited to Geneva “as official representatives of independent republics.”

What information is available to Kommersant indicates that two working teams will be established in Geneva, one to handle matters of regional security, the other the problem of refugees. Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations are expected to participate in their work but that is essentially all. It is unlikely that representatives of these delegations will be accepted at the plenary meeting where all major decisions will be made.

Russia has a ready answer to it. A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told this newspaper that “Moscow’s position remains unchanged (since the first round of the talks – Kommersant): the Russian delegation will only attend the meetings where representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are present.” “We are not going to attend whatever meetings are arranged without the Abkhazians and South Ossetians, and therefore the decisions made at these meetings will carry no weight from our standpoint,” the diplomat said.

It makes the Geneva talks a non-starter. The Europeans cannot grant Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations an official status. It means that Russia will refuse to ratify whatever decisions are made in Geneva and that will make the whole undertaking a waste of time and effort.

Considering the suggestions Georgia intends to make in Geneva, it is Russia that stands to benefit from this turn of events. It seems that official Tbilisi is determined to demand a withdrawal of the Russian military and its replacement with an international contingent.

Georgia fully expects the European structures involved in the talks in Geneva to support its demands. President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili discussed the matter in Paris last week and warned the European Union against restoration of relations with Russia “as if nothing happened”. Actually, even President of France Nicolas Sarkozy said during the EU-Russian summit in Nice that he had had a chance to remind President Dmitry Medvedev “of the necessity to make progress in connection with the Russian troops’ withdrawal from Akhalgori and Perevi.” In other words, Sarkozy made it plain that not even the Europeans’ intention to improve relations with Moscow was going to persuade them to turn the blind eye to Russian military presence on the territory of Georgia.

According to what information is available at this point, Georgia will suggest at the talks that Russia is a party concerned and therefore suggest a replacement of the Russian contingent with an international. “Russia is a party concerned. It cannot be a guarantor of security anymore,” a source in the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.

As a matter of fact, results of the investigation Amnesty International ran may also be interpreted in Georgia’s favor. The report this organization compiled treats Russia as a party to the conflict. “The Georgians and the Russians accuse each other of war crimes during the conflict,” Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programs Director, said. “All warring sides should thoroughly and objectively investigate these claims and bring the guilty to answer, if necessary.” Duckworth suggested removal of all restrictions and limitations on international observers’ freedom to move in the conflict area.

This is one demand Moscow has no intention of meeting because unrestricted movement of European observers will essentially signify a beginning of replacement of the Russian contingent with foreign ones. The statement Abkhazia made yesterday was quite critical of the European Union, by the way. “The incident in the Gali district last Saturday makes it plain that EU observers participate in armed provocations engineered by Georgia,” Ruslan Kishmaria, presidential representative to the Gali district, said. “EU observers followed Georgian armed trespassers into Abkhazia. Who gave them the right to do so?”

In other words, Abkhazia has its own answer to the idea to replace the Russians with an international contingent. South Ossetia is with Abkhazia. Dmitry Medoyev, representative of South Ossetian president, accused European observers of being unable to perform their functions or control situation in the conflict area.

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