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What will the next Geneva talks bring?

Wednesday, October 22
What should be expected from the Geneva talks scheduled for November 18? There are many very important issues to be discussed but already it seems that the talks will be unlikely to achieve any significant result.

The October 15 Geneva talks were greatly anticipated by the Georgian population, whose hopes had been wound up by the authorities. It was anticipated that as the Russians had just left most of the buffer zones, the IDPs would return home, Russian troops would start withdrawing from Akhalgori, Kodori and the places which were Georgian-controlled before the August war, international forces would replace them, the separatists would give up and so on and so forth. Maybe it was too much to expect, but this is what we were encouraged to think, as the talks were considered part of the “victory” we were assured Georgia had won, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

The October 15 Geneva conference was destroyed by the Russian demand that the separatist leaders should be present as independent parties to the negotiations. This was absolutely unacceptable for the Georgians, as everyone knew before this demand was tabled. Most probably the same scenario will be seen on November 18 too. Moscow will attempt to at least partially legitimize the separatist regimes, and any kind of recognition of them as the equals of the nation states genuinely represented would be taken by their paymasters as partial recognition of them. The negotiations themselves will yield absolutely no results, like the previous ones. The Kremlin has its own plans, and has followed them quite successfully by itself so far.

Before the October 15 talks Tbilisi said it would not allow any representatives of the separatist regimes to be present in Geneva. Due to the recommendations of Western friends however, it agreed to their inclusion in the Russian delegation. Inevitably this concession was followed by extra demands from Moscow, and if the partial recognition the separatists desire is unwittingly granted on November 18, we can expect the Russian demands to increase further, however untenable some of their supporting arguments may be.

All the expectations Georgia has had from the Geneva talks or any other are absolutely unrealistic in the near future. Moscow will never agree to any Georgian demand without being forced. Pressure from the West is becoming less intensive since the Russians withdrew from the buffer zones, so it looks unlikely that the Kremlin will give ground on any issue. On the contrary, it is reinforcing its presence in the occupied territories by issuing legal documents, agreements, resolutions, ratifications, appointing ambassadors and hastily building military bases, all of this in blatant disregard of the ceasefire agreement, leaving it with little it can be talked to about.

For its part Georgia should be very careful about taking any further diplomatic steps, because its rather inexperienced diplomatic leadership is up against a well trained, thoroughly prepared, shameless and cunning Russian diplomatic corps. Any ambiguous word would be seized on and used to beat Georgia to death, just as the unambiguous words of the ceasefire agreement have been so far. The original Sarkozy-Medvedev draft contained an extra clause concerning the determination of the status of the breakaway regions. This clause was hastily rejected by the Georgian side, and was not included in the final version which Moscow immediately agreed. The result was dreadful for Georgia, as Russia recognized the independence of the breakaway regions one-sidedly because the agreement did not specify this was a matter for discussion. Georgia has to avoid underwater reefs while trying to read between the lines, and may not realize it cannot do so until it is too late.

Of course Russia has, and will continue to have, many problems: the world economic crisis, the oil price decrease, domestic ethnic unrest and its consequences. But these problems could merely accelerate Moscow’s aggressiveness towards its neighbours. There is less than a month before November 18 and Georgia should meet this date more consolidated and ready than before, because it has its own domestic problems too.