New round of conflict negotiations in Georgia: what are the positions of the parties?
At the 41st round of the international Geneva discussions which took place on 10 and 11 October, the usual questions of security and humanitarian issues were discussed. However, a new theme arose as well: the marmorated stink bug as a danger to the region.
According to information received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, the main theme of the discussion was the ‘ethnic cleansing of Georgians that have remained on the occupied territories’ and ‘the destructive actions of Russia’.
In its statement, the MFA said that the Georgian side pointed out the mass destruction of homes of ethnic Georgians in the village of Eredvi. The Georgian side assess this fact as a ‘planned attempt to erase the Georgian trace from the Tskhinvali region and a continuation of ethnic cleansing’.
Another issue of discussion was ‘ethnic discrimination in the Gali region of Abkhazia’, including pressure on the local Georgian population with the aim of changing last names and ethnic identities. Another issue: a ban on education being conducted in the Georgian language in the schools of the Gali and Akhalgori regions as well as the critical social and humanitarian situation in Gali.
The Georgian side has framed the issue as the ‘factual annexation by Russia’ of occupied Georgian territories. Tbilisi believes that the decision of the Kremlin to erect a customs’ point in Sukhumi is a continuation of this annexation.
“As in the past, Russia refuses to discuss the creation of an international security mechanism, and in this way Moscow ignores its obligations under point five of the cease-fire agreement of 12 August 2008,” the MFA statement says.
In an official statement concerning the results of the Geneva discussions, the Russian MFA highlights Tbilisi’s cooperation with NATO which Moscow found to be of concern, and notes that it is ‘perceived as a real threat to regional security’.
The Russian MFA statement also mentions NATO military drills being conducted in Georgia which took place earlier in 2017. According to Moscow, such actions of Tbilisi and members of the alliance go directly against the aims of the Geneva discussions, undermine its work and are leading to a growth of tension in the region.
The MFA also criticized the last resolution of the parliamentary assembly of NATO on Georgia, and noted that it was of an ‘unacceptable and provoking nature’.
At its annual session in Bucharest from 6 – 9 October, the parliamentary assembly of NATO accepted several resolutions on security, one of which concerns Georgia.
In its resolution on ‘Security and Stability in the Black Sea Region’, which was accepted at a plenary meeting on 9 October, deep concern is expressed for the ‘growing tension in the region’ and the ‘illegal occupation by Russia of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the growth of military force’.
Representatives of the Sukhumi authorities stated that the participants of the negotiations have, again, been unable to agree upon a compromise and verbally declare the non-use of force.
In its own statement, Sukhumi says that the Abkhaz side pointed out the necessity of adopting operational measures aimed at fighting against the brown marmorated stink bug, ‘the invasion of which seriously threatens agriculture in Abkhazia’. Sukhumi asked the co-chairmen of the Geneva international discussions to closely examine this problem and to give the necessary international support in the fight against the pest.
The statement of the authorities of Tskhinvali repeat the position of Russia concerning the co-operation between Georgia and NATO.
Tskhinvali calls upon Tbilisi to ‘engage in joint bilateral work to delimit and demarcate the state border between the Republic of South Ossetia and Georgia‘ and calls the actions of the Georgian side in the border villages provoking. The statement was referring to demonstrations in protest of the installment of border fences.
The position of the USA
According to a statement released by the delegation of the USA at the negotiations expressed protest against the closure of two crossing points at the administrative border line of Abkhazia and Georgia and also against the installation of physical barriers and demarcation signs at the administrative boundary line of South Ossetia, which ‘violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia’.
“Such actions limit free movement and damage the living environment of local residents,” the statement says.
American officials also expressed their protest against the demolition of homes of ethnic Georgians in the village of Eredvi and noted that ‘Georgians have the right to return home’.
They also expressed concern over the decision of Sukhumi to end the investigation into the murder of Georgian citizen Gigi Otkhozoria.
Regarding the question of the non-use of force, American diplomats ‘called on the sides to continue constructive negotiations with the aim of making a joint statement’.
The co-chairmen of the Geneva negotiations published a communique for the media in which they listed ‘arrests along the division lines’, ‘access to agricultural lands’, ‘exchange of information on military activity’ and ‘the necessity of administering justice for serious crimes’ among the topics discussed.
During the negotiations, non-political questions were also discussed, including the threat posed to western Georgia and Abkhazia by the brown marmorated stink bug which has seriously harmed the harvest.
The next round of the international Geneva discussions will be held from 12 – 13 December 2017.
- After the August 2008 war, the format of the Geneva discussions was created between Georgia and the Russian Federation. The decision to create the format was made according to a ceasefire agreement which was made on 12 August 2008. Since then, four rounds of discussions are held every year. Apart from Russia and Georgia, representatives of the USA and co-chairmen of the European Union, the OSCE and the UN also participate. Representatives of Tskhinvali and Sukhumi are also present.
- International discussions in Geneva are conducted in two parallel working groups. In the first group, questions of security are discussed, for example: the achievement of a non-use of force agreement between Russia and Georgia and the creation of international mechanisms of security in the occupied regions of Georgia. In the second group, questions of returning displaced people and refugees, and also humanitarian questions such as education in Georgia, the protection of cultural heritage and the free movement of people along the line of occupation.