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Signs of progress at Geneva talks

By Ernest Petrosyan
Monday, April 2
A thaw has occurred at the Russia-Georgia Geneva talks.

Deputy Foreign Minister and a chief negotiator at the discussions, Sergi Kapanadze, assessed the 19th round of Geneva talks on March 29 as “relatively positive”. He hopes that such a trend will lead to a point where Moscow reciprocates Tbilisi’s unilateral non-use of force pledge.

Russia’s position regarding such a pledge remains firm so far, as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and head of the Russian delegation, Gregory Karasin, reiterated, saying his government is merely working as a peacekeeper between Georgian and its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As Karasin told Itar-Tass news agency, the demand for a non-use of force pledge is unacceptable to Russia from a “principle point of view” because Russia “does not consider itself to be a party to the conflict".

Russia instead insists that Georgia sign a binding non-use of force agreement with Tskhinvali and Sokhumi, in which Moscow, the U.S. and the EU will act as guarantors – something that Tbilisi finds unacceptable.

“We have to note that this particular round was relatively positive, because we have a feeling that we are moving in the right direction, and that the discussions we are having here in Geneva will bring us to a point where a non-use of force pledge will be made [with Russian] authorities,” Kapanadze said at a news conference after the talks ended.

Georgia has already committed to the non-use of force several times on different levels, including President Mikheil Saakashvili’s pledge in his remarks to various international organization; now, as Kapanadze said, “We are waiting for Moscow to reciprocate”.

He also noted that “concrete ideas” were discussed during the talks and expressed hope that those proposals “will get us closer to the point when everyone” will sign a pledge. However, he did not elaborate further about the details of these ideas.

At the press conference, Kapanadze noted that no progress has been achieved with international security arrangements. He claimed that the situation in the breakaway regions is alarming, and international peacekeeping missions are necessary.

“It remains our goal to see international peacekeeping and police missions in these regions, because we think that the best way to ensure a non-use of force pledge is respected ... is through this kind of international presence and that strong UN, OSCE or the European Union-mandated peacekeepers and police forces can be the best guarantee for the security and stability,” he remarked.

The Deputy Minister also expressed his concern for the Russian military drills known as “Kavkaz 2012”, to be conducted in the North Caucasus this fall, and involving Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

According to Kapanadze, during negotiations the Georgian side received “some encouraging clarifications” from the Russian negotiators about the planned military drills. Namely, he said the Georgian side was told by Karasin that Russia was “not going to involve Russian troops located outside the Russian Federation” in the planned military exercises.

Karasin, in his turn, accused Georgia of forming illegal paramilitary groups close to the administrative border with Abkhazia. The Russian chief negotiator, speaking to the RIA Novosti news agency, cited the allegations of Our Georgia-Free Democrats leader Irakli Alasania, who accused the government of organizing armed groups in Zugdidi.

“Recent months have been characterized by escalation in the area of the Georgian-Abkhaz border, where provocations of Georgian special services [have occurred]. Seven people have already been killed since January. Some kind of armed groups have emerged. Georgian opposition politicians also confirm this fact,” Karasin said after the talks.

At the press conference, the co-chairs said that the participants “welcomed the relatively stable environment, despite an increase of the number of violent incidents” along the administrative boundary line of Abkhazia

Ambassador Philippe Lefort, the EU’s special representative for the South Caucasus who is a co-chair of the negotiations, said the talks are moving ahead “slowly, sometimes with great difficulty.”

The Geneva negotiation process was launched after the August 2008 war, and is facilitated by the EU, the OSCE, and the UN, and involves negotiators from the United States, Russia, Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.

The next round of talks has been scheduled for June 7-8, 2012.