51st Round of Geneva International Discussions

The 51st round of the Geneva International Discussions (GID) – the multilateral forum to address security and humanitarian consequences of the Russo-Georgian War of August 2008 – was held on December 10-11, after a year-long break, caused by the COVID-19 outbreak and Moscow’s disruption.

The GIDs are co-chaired by representatives of OSCE, EU and UN, and involve participants from Georgia, Russia and the United States, as well as members of both the Georgian exiled administrations of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia and the two regions’ Russian-backed authorities, in their personal capacities. Sessions are held in two working groups, with the first group discussing peace and security matters, and the second – humanitarian concerns.

Positions taken: Georgia

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that “deteriorated security and humanitarian situation amid COVID-19 pandemic”, as well as “de-facto annexation process” of the occupied regions by Russia have been the key issues of the discussion.

Protesting a common socio-economic space program adopted by Moscow and Sokhumi, the Georgian delegation noted that it serves to the gradual integration of the Georgian integral regions into Russia.

In this context, the Georgian side also highlighted the discussion of the “Union State” between Kremlin-backed Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania and President Putin during the November 12 meeting in Sochi, slamming it as “a destructive step” towards “formal annexation” of Georgian territories.

Georgian participants also focused on “arbitrarily arrested Georgian citizens” in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali Region and called on the immediate release of Irakli Bebua, Zaza Gakheladze, Genadi Bestaev, and other detainees illegally held in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali prisons. The necessity to “restore justice” and hold perpetrators accountable in the death cases of Archil Tatunashvili, Giga Otkhozoria, Davit Basharuli, and Irakli Kvaratskhelia has been again raised at the meetings.

The negotiations also revolved around the “severe humanitarian consequences” of prolonged Sokhumi and Tskhinvali-imposed movement restrictions along the dividing lines. “In this context, the facts of the Tskhinvali occupation regime restricting medical evacuation on ethnic grounds, causing a number of fatalities locally, have been brought into focus,” the statement noted.

Georgian delegation also discussed ethnic discrimination of Georgians living in occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali, as well as their inability to receive education in their native language, assessing these as part of “deliberate Russification.”

The Georgian delegation also underlined a number of other “Russian provocations” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, including continuous drills and “illegal militarization” of the occupied regions, erection of barbed wires along the occupation lines and “creeping occupation” near Chorchana village.

The facilitators and the Georgian delegation raised the question of the “safe return” of IDPs and refugees, however, “the representatives of the Russian Federation and its occupational regimes again tried to politicize the humanitarian issue and walked out of the talks,” Georgian MFA stated.

Positions taken: Russia, Sokhumi, Tskhinvali

The Russian Foreign Ministry (MID) said participants from Moscow expressed concern about Georgia’s “inability to present constructive approach” on the Non-Use of Force agreement between Tbilisi, Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.

“This document has key importance in strengthening South Caucasian stability and security. Its relevance is especially expanding given the increasing military activity of the United States and NATO in Georgia and the region,” MID noted.

Noting that discussion participants dubbed the situation along dividing lines as “generally calm,” Russian MID said further stabilization requires “border delimitation and demarcation.”

Stressing that despite the current stability crisis potential remains “quite high,” Russia urged all interested parties to show restraint, and “to look for common ground through dialogue in the existing negotiation formats”, including the Ergneti and Gali IPRMs.

The IPRMs format was established under the Geneva International Discussions to address the security concerns and developments on the ground on a regular basis, and involves officials from Tbilisi on the one hand and representatives of Tskhinvali and Sokhumi authorities on the other in two, separate meetings, as well as representatives of the Russian border troops.

It said Moscow-mediated peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can serve as “an example,” inspiring “optimism” and setting “guidelines” for other negotiation platforms.

Participants from Sokhumi said that the parties discussed the Non-Use of Force agreement “as the main and most relevant issue on the agenda.” The Abkhaz delegation also underlined the issue of “illegal” crossings from Georgia proper, leading to “numerous arrests.”

Sokhumi showed its interest in the restoration of the Gali IPRM, if the specific issues discussed at the platform will be of “mutual interests.”

Participants from Tskhinvali expressed their concern about Tbilisi’s rapprochement with NATO, while underlining “militarization of Georgia” and “expansion of the Alliance’s military presence” on the Georgian territory as threats to South Caucasian security and stability.

Slamming Tbilisi for using discrediting ”propaganda” against Tskhinvali on the international arena, they condemned “Georgia’s human rights violations” internally against the ethnic Ossetians in Truso gorge.

Positions taken: the United States

The United States Mission to Geneva issued a press statement, saying that the U.S. Delegation “expressed deep regret at the unnecessary humanitarian suffering caused by the closure since September 2019 of many ABL crossing points as well as the ongoing detention of Georgian citizens by de facto authorities.”

The U.S. also voiced “disappointment” over “increased construction” of fences and other barriers along both ABLs amid COVID-19 crisis, while reaffirming its commitment to working with GID participants to “alleviate suffering caused by the pandemic.”

The U.S. delegation slammed the “destabilizing effects” of Russian military activities taking place on Georgian territory with active participation from Kremlin-backed authorities in occupied South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

As for the new socio-economic program signed between Sokhumi and Moscow, the U.S. evaluated this step as a promotion of Russian economic capture of the occupied region, aiming “incorporation of occupied Abkhazia into Russian governance structures.”

Welcoming resumption of the GID and Ergneti IPRM, the U.S. delegation emphasized the importance of fully utilizing existing negotiation platforms “to address disagreements.” The U.S. also hoped for restoration of the Gali IPRM “in the near future.”

The press statement further touched the Non-Use of Force issue, saying that the U.S. welcomed the “unilateral commitment Georgia made in 2010 not to use force to restore its sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

The U.S. reiterated its “full support” for Georgia’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity “within its internationally recognized borders.”

GID Co-Chairs’ Assessment

The GID Co-Chairs issued separate press communiqué, stating that their collective efforts “allowed participants to better address issues relating to the security and humanitarian situation of conflict-affected populations on the ground.”

According to the statement, the participants assessed the security situation on the ground “as relatively calm and stable.” The situation in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area, recent detention cases, missing persons, and the importance of conflict-affected populations’ access to livelihoods were among the discussed issues.

The communiqué stated that the issues of IDPs and refugees could not be addressed, “due to a walkout of some participants.”

The GID Co-Chairs emphasized the importance of in-person meetings, while expressing their support for continued dialogue, “aimed at addressing conflict-related issues and defusing tensions and potential misunderstandings.” They called for all the participants to build “trust and confidence among them,” while ensuring constructive cooperation with international organizations.

The Co-Chairs have welcomed the resumption of IPRM in Ergneti with two meetings held this year and stressed the need to resume regular meetings of the Gali IPRM.

The next round of the GID is scheduled for March 23-24, 2021.

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