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The talks spoiled – who’s to blame?

By Temuri Kiguradze
Friday, October 17
Russia and Georgia are accusing each other of spoiling the negotiations in Geneva on October 15. The talks have been “suspended due to procedural difficulties” and will resume on November 18.

“The event has been cancelled because of Georgia, which refused to participate in the plenary meeting,” said Grigory Karasin, Deputy Head of the Russian Foreign Ministry, as quoted by Russian news agency Interfax. “However the meeting has still been conducted and that’s very important,” added Karasin, speaking in Geneva on the evening of October 15. However the Georgian side says that Russia created problems. “The cancellation of the talks in Geneva has clearly shown that Russia will do anything to prevent the conflicts in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region being resolved peacefully, with the assistance of the international community,” said Chair of the Georgian Parliament David Bakradze, talking to journalists on October 16.

The discussions were cancelled because there was no agreement reached on the status of the representatives of Georgia’s breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Georgian delegation was against the participation of the separatist Governments in the talks, as this had not been agreed beforehand. According to Russian newspaper Kommersant the Abkhazian and South Ossetian representatives caused a fuss before the start of the talks, arguing with Russian diplomats, demanding “the status of an independent state delegation” and the removal of Georgian as one of the working languages of the talks. After the refusal of their demands the head of the Abkhazian de-facto Foreign Ministry, Sergey Shamba, and separatist Prime Minister of South Ossetia Boris Chochiev left the hall in protest. Russian diplomats had to make excuses for their actions.

“We are not satisfied with our status and that’s why further talks have not been conducted. The Georgian side was against granting us status. There is no sense in continuing the talks without us. Nothing can be decided in these regions without Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” stated Sergey Shamba, as quoted by Kommersant.

Soon after the separatist walkout, the Georgian side replied to the accusations of Karasin. “This is a lie,” said the head of the Georgian delegation Grigol Vashadze. He maintained that everything was ready for the start of the discussions but the Russian delegation didn’t show up.

The negotiations in Geneva were a condition of the six-point ceasefire agreement, the so-called Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, which was signed by the leaders of Russia and France and stopped the August conflict. The plan also requires the withdrawal of Russian troops which occupied a large part of Georgia. The withdrawal should have been finished by October 10, but the Georgian side maintains the plan has been violated because Russian soldiers are still in the Akhalgori region and the Kodori Gorge.

As reported by Georgian media, European leaders have made comments on the Geneva talks. The EU’s acting Chair, French President Nikolas Sarkozy, says that the six-point plan must be implemented, or usual relations with Russia “can't be kept on.” Commissioners Javier Solana and Bonita Ferrero-Waldner have said that Russia has to withdraw and respect Georgia's territorial integrity. ''We did not expect all the issues to be resolved at the talks. It is very difficult to agree something specific at the very first meeting. We will continue to talk until the next meeting planned in a month,'' Solana said. Ferrero-Waldner doesn't consider the Russian-Georgian talks were wrecked and regards the next meeting as very important. ''We are working on making peace, developing mutual trust and resolving economic issues. So, I'm looking forward to November 18,'' she said.

The OSCE acting Chair, Finnish Foreign Minster Alexander Stubb, is content that the first meeting between the Georgian and Russian sides has been held and talks have started. ''It's very good that talks have started. This will be a difficult process but it's very important that all sides have gathered and one more day - November 18 - is ahead. The meeting has been constructive. The main thing is that we'll continue the negotiations,'' Stubb said.

The Russian media has reported that the scandal of Geneva has already caused diplomatic problems for Russia. The negotiations on future EU-Russian partnership have been postponed till November.