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So what do we do now?

Friday, October 17
The much-publicised Geneva conference ended up being frustrating. The Sarkozy – Medvedev agreement initially envisaged holding this conference at Foreign Minister level. Later it was downgraded to expert level. Despite all the planning, on October 15 the only decision the failed meeting took was that another gathering would take place on November 18, again in Geneva.

Georgia has been experiencing such talks/negotiations/conferences for years, enjoying the kind support of different friends, Russia the “friendliest” among them in the guise of main mediator and peacekeeper. For more than 15 years, while these conferences were going on, the Western world chose to ignore Russia’s manipulations over the separatist regions and by this mute consent encouraged Moscow to act according to its own rules despite the desperate yelling from Tbilisi. All that happened as a result of this was that things got worse. No IDP out of around 300,000 was securely returned, apart from a small number of Gali residents who returned at their own risk and experienced permanent pressure from the separatists who were backed by Russian peacekeepers. Not a single step was taken in the direction of restoring the territorial integrity of Georgia, on the contrary Russian passports were distributed among the population, thus granting the population of separatist controlled regins citizenship of Russia and encouraging the notion that by gaining independence they could later integrate into Russia. Ethnic cleansing of the Georgian population took place continually in both breakaway regions. Yet in the face of all this Russia was granted a peacekeeping mandate and the role of prime mediator, not treated as an interested party in the dispute.

The Kremlin, having had years of encouragement, wants to play according to the same rules again. It wants to use the Geneva conference for its own ends by discussing there the safety and security of the newly-emerged “independent states” and present these “countries” as sides in the conflict, thus forcing the international community to indirectly recognize them. Russia always knew that for Georgia, these terms were absolutely unacceptable. Therefore the talks failed, as Russia always intended that they would unless they were held in a discriminatory format of its own choosing.

It is difficult to predict what will happen on November 18. Russia’s behaviour is a serious challenge for Georgian diplomacy. Having lost the war we should not lose the peace.

The Sarkozy-brokered agreement was primarily targeted at stopping hostilities and preventing Russian tanks from entering Tbilisi. This was achieved, but now Russia wants to read the agreement its own way. Where it cannot do so it changes the reality. It recognized the separatist regimes and concluded agreements with them. Now it acts according to the “new reality” it has created, regardless of the terms of the agreement it signed, which precluded recognition prior to international discussion. Moscow wants to take on a peacekeeping role again, but mediating between Georgia and Abkhazia and Georgia and South Ossetia as equals. Such an arrangement would have nothing to do with peace, but be a green light to conduct continual war, and Russia knows it.

In the near future the Georgian Parliament will adopt the law “On Occupied Territories.” This law should not be used only domestically, but in external politics as well. Georgia should use this law to state its position and govern its conduct in negotiations, so that it can resist pressure from Russia and possibly others, who will misguidedly lobby for the aggressor they only see from afar, through the prism of assumed good intention.