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Foreign Minister criticizes Russia on Geneva talks

By Ernest Petrosyan
Friday, January 27
Speaking to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze accused Russia of attempting to “kill” the Russo-Georgian Geneva negotiations, launched after the August 2008 war.

“Unfortunately, Geneva talks are stalled in both working groups because our Russian partners are explicitly refusing to discuss security arrangements in the first working group, and are explicitly refusing to discuss the voluntary, dignified, and safe return of IDPs and refugees in the second one,” claimed Vashadze.

“Our Russian partners are trying to decrease the frequency of our meetings there," he continued. "We started from meetings at least once a month… now we are meeting each other once in three months; the next stage will be meetings once in six months and then they will kill those negotiations and we simply cannot afford to do that.”

Vashadze did however refer to the talks as “indispensable.” Discussions take the form of two working groups, on security and humanitarian issues. Negotiations are co-chaired by the European Union, the United Nations, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Negotiators are formally referred to as “participants”, and include those from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgia's goal in the security working group is to win an international police and peacekeeping presence in the disputed territories, in place of the Russian forces present today. However, the group currently faces a deadlock on the issue of non-use of force. The Georgian side claims Russia as party to the conflict, thereby demanding from Russia a commitment to the non-use of force. However, Russia does not recognize itself as a party, demanding that the Georgian government sign such an agreement with the de-facto authorities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia instead.

“So far either we have been receiving a very firm 'no' [from Moscow on a non-use of force pledge], or we have been answered by military exercises,” remarked Vashadze, referring to the Kavkaz-2012 military exercises, which Russia reportedly plans to perform in September, with the participation of military units from Abkhazia and South Ossetia. According to the Foreign Minister, the goal of such a large-scaled military drill is "to occupy the remaining [part of] Georgia."

Vashadze noted that Georgia hoped the World Trade Organization deal with Russia could serve as grounds for building “if not a better relationship, at least a better understanding between Georgia and Russia... Unfortunately this did not happen.”

The head of the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe, Leonid Slutsky, defended his government's policy towards Georgia, calling President Saakashvili a "good PR agent," who is attempting to paint Russia as an aggressor.

“We will talk to civil society, the Georgian parliament, the Georgian delegation to the Council, but not with President Saakashvili,” said Slutsky.

Days before, Vashadze maintained that “Russian authorities do not wish to talk to a democratically elected government. After the elections in 2012 and 2013, when a new government is created, I ensure you that Russia will not talk to it [either]."

The Minister also noted that Moscow’s attempt to achieve international recognition for Abkhazia and South Ossetia was costing the Russian taxpayers a lot of money.

"This process is not going quite very well for our Russian friends... I think it is costing a lot of money to Russian taxpayers, because [minor island nation] Nauru was paid 50 million dollars for that recognition,” Vashadze said, referring to Russia's trade of aid money for international recognition of the breakaway regions.

According to the minister, Georgia refuses to engage in “chequebook diplomacy” by trying to prevent recognition of Sokhumi and Tskhinvali through putting “more money on the table”. He noted that the international community and international law is on Georgia’s side, and that it is those things that will determine how other Pacific Islands (and other countries) evaluate South Ossetia and Abkhazia's case.

Referring to the breakaway regions, Vashadze said that Tbilisi is hoping to implement a policy of reintegration, envisaged under Georgia’s State Strategy on Occupied Territories program, and centred on humanitarian projects. He mentioned the status-neutral travel documents issued by the Georgian government, introduced last year for residents of the disputed regions

“I am very thankful to several European states, including the Czech Republic [and] Lithuania, which already gave their consent to recognize that document,” Vashadze said

A week before, however, de-facto Abkhaz leader Alexander Ankvab ordered the expulsion of all international organizations that encourage residents of Abkhazia to apply for a status-neutral passport.

In addition to international topics, the Georgian Foreign Minister also spoke about Georgia's improved election environment. “By introducing amendments in legislation on political parties in line with the recommendations… of the Venice Commission, we have significantly advanced in fighting political corruption,” Vashadze said, referring to recent legislation that tightened rules for party funding. However, provisions of that law have been slammed by local watchdog groups, as they may provide authorities with the ability to misuse the electoral code against their opponents.