Russian-Georgian Talks Salvaged

19 May 2009

International mediators say the latest round of Russian-Georgian security talks took place in a constructive spirit, despite initial difficulties. The talks were on the point of collapse Monday after the Russian delegation walked out in solidarity with its Abkhaz and South Ossetian allies. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoriy Karasin at talks in Geneva, 19 May 2009
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoriy Karasin at talks in Geneva, 19 May 2009
After initially walking out of the talks on Monday, the Russian delegation reconsidered and resumed the discussions, much to the relief of the three international mediators.

At the end of Tuesday's talks they were all smiles as they issued their final communiqué, which described the discussions as having taken place in a constructive spirit. The Special Representative of the European Union for the crisis in Georgia said he believed the process was back on the right track. Indeed, he said the process was in full swing.

The Special Envoy of the OSCE or Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Charalampos Christopoulos, tempered his remarks by admitting the discussions were not easy. "Emotions are still raw and positions in some cases, wide apart. But, the discussions are crucial for the security and stability of Georgia, the Caucuses and the wider region and we, as co-chairs will continue to help all participants to try to find common ground," he said.

Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia during two wars in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Last August, a brief war erupted between Moscow and Tblisi over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. There was great destruction and tens of thousands of people were displaced.

The Abkhaz delegation was initially refused to attend the talks to protest the U.N.'s refusal to recognize its independent status. Only Russia and Nicaragua recognize the breakaway states of Abkhazia and Ossetia as independent states. The rest of the world considers them as part of Georgia.

These negotiations are aimed at easing tensions in the region. Two working groups have been set up to deal with security and humanitarian issues.

Christopoulos said despite the rocky start, this fifth round of negotiations has made progress. "Participants began to discuss concrete security arrangements. We're also moving forward on humanitarian questions, including on water where the OSCE is playing a specific role...Secondly, the working level mechanisms to tackle security related incidents have started. That was a concrete outcome from the fourth round of the Geneva discussions and all participants have recommitted themselves again during this round to implement these mechanisms," he said.

Christopoulos acknowledged that much work still has to be done to overcome the mistrust of all sides and to reduce tensions. The next round of talks is scheduled for July 1.