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Geneva talks details remain obscure

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, October 15
After days of speculation about the possible format of, and participants in, the Geneva talks, the full details still remain unknown a few hours before the opening of the meeting.

Controversial information had been broadcast about the possible involvement of Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations at the Geneva talks, where issues of stability and security in the region, the return of IDPs to their homes and the complete withdrawal of Russian troops are due to be discussed. Although Georgia completely opposes the participation of the separatists in the talks, the Russian media and the press service of de facto South Ossetia have reported that acting Prime Minister Boris Chochiev would lead an Ossetian delegation, and the de facto Abkhazian President’s Press Service says that Sergey Shamba will also lead an Abkhazian delegation in Geneva. Russian news agency Ria Novosti quoted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner as saying that “representatives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia will probably participate in negotiations.” An OSCE press release issued on October 13, also mentioned that representatives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would be among the participants at the talks, along with representatives of the EU, UN, OSCE, US, Russia and Georgia. In addition, according to Western media, an unnamed EU diplomat has said that the de facto Abkhazian and South Ossetian officials would take part in negotiations, but only informal working meetings, not the plenary sessions.

The Georgian side continues to completely rule out the possibility of the breakaway regions’ involvement in the Geneva talks. “The Georgian delegation will not allow the representatives of the self-declared South Ossetian and Abkhazian Republics to participate in the Geneva negotiations,” Deputy Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told journalists at Tbilisi Airport before leaving for Geneva. Earlier on October 10, another leader of the Georgian delegation to Geneva, First Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, said that the secessionist authorities could not be presented as parties to the Geneva talks. Only after Russian forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are replaced by international peacekeepers would there be a possibility of involving “the leaders of all the communities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia” at the next stage of Geneva negotiations, Bokeria said.

Speaking to The Messenger, Georgian State Minister on Reintegration Issues Temur Iakobashvili also denied that Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations would take part in the Geneva talks. The Minister said that the representatives of the self-declared republics are part of the Russian delegation. “The only countries participating in the negotiations in Geneva are Georgia and Russia, as the parties to the August conflict, USA as a mediator, and three international organizations, the OSCE, UN and EU,” Iakobashvili said. He added that the Ossetians and Abkhazians would also be involved as part of the Georgian delegation, as the head of the Abkhaz Government in Exile, Malkhaz Akishbaia, and the head of the Tbilisi-backed South Ossetian Provisional Administration, Dmitri Sanakoev, would be part of the Georgian delegation.

Georgian analysts say that Abkhazian and Ossetian involvement in an official, independent capacity at the Geneva talks would mean a “small diplomatic victory for Russia.” According to political commentator Ramaz Sakvarelidze, Russia has insisted on including Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the negotiations, because it wants to set a precedent. “As the Russians understand, this would mean the indirect recognition of the breakaway regions,” Sakvarelidze said. However, though unsure about the format of the negotiations, Sakvarelidze added that he does not see any reason for concern if the visit of the South Ossetian and Abkhazian representatives is unofficial and they participate only in work meetings. “There have been many such precedents before,” Sakvarelidze said, “And it has never caused any problems.”

Sakvarelidze suggested that the West has probably made the decision to include the de facto Abkhazian and South Ossetian delegations in the Geneva talks as a result of the Russian Government’s repeated demands. “The Georgian Government has generally been ignoring Russia’s interests and acting in a way which is unacceptable for Russia, and now we can see the negative consequences. Unlike the Georgian Government, Western countries do not want to disrespect Russia and end up with the same results,” the analyst noted.

Sakvarelidze said that the Geneva negotiation is just the first round of a cycle of talks which will take place in future. He said the main aim of the negotiations would be to harmonize the interests of the West and Russia. “Georgia has become the victim of Russian-Western conflict and I am convinced that Georgian-Russian conflict resolution should start with the regulation of Western-Russian relations,” Sakvarelidze said.