The 52nd 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 March 25-26 in the Palace of Nations
Positions taken: Georgia
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia said that the “aggravated security and humanitarian situation” in Russian-occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali Region amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the “de-facto annexation process” of said regions, as well as issues regarding the release of illegally detained Georgian citizens, were the key topics discussed during the 52nd round.
Regarding Russia’s de-facto annexation of the occupied regions, the sides touched upon the common socio-economic space program adopted between Moscow and Sokhumi, as well as the discussion of the “Union State” between Kremlin-backed Abkhaz leader Aslan Bzhania and President Putin during a November 12 meeting.
The Georgian delegation “spoke extensively” of provocations from Moscow, including, continued erection of barbed wires and artificial obstacles along the occupation lines, “creeping occupation” near Chorchana village, increasing militarization of the occupied regions through joint military drills, Russia’s use of hybrid warfare, as well as the “illegal detention and abduction” of persons living near the occupation line. The Georgian side called for the unconditional release of all Georgian citizens arbitrarily detained in Sokhumi and Tskhinvali.
“The severe humanitarian and socio-economic consequences of restricting free movement” along the dividing lines were also raised during the 52nd round. “The fatal consequences of delaying medical evacuations were noted, and the need for unrestricted access to medical care for people living in the occupied territories was highlighted,” noted the Georgian MFA. Noteworthy, that the issue of ethnic Georgian activist Tamar Mearakishvili, Akhalgori resident, was also brought up by the Georgian delegation.
The Georgian side also discussed ethnic discrimination and isolation 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 attempts at “Russification.”
The Georgian side once again highlighted the need to administer justice in the murder cases of Archil Tatunashvili, Giga Otkhozoria, and Davit Basharuli. The failure to hold perpetrators accountable “contributes to the promotion of ethnic violence and crime,” said Tbilisi.
Regarding the “safe and dignified return of IDPs and refugees displaced by ethnic cleansing” in the occupied regions, the Georgian side noted that despite attempts to review the issue in a depoliticized manner, the “Russian Federation and the representatives of the occupying regimes again tried to use this fundamental issue for political manipulation and again left the negotiating table during the discussion.”
The Georgian side reportedly touched upon the recent European Court of Human Rights verdict regarding the 2008 Russo-Georgian war which found Moscow exercising effective control over the two regions, and accountable for subsequent human rights violations in the aftermath of the conflict.
Positions taken: Russia, Sokhumi, Tskhinvali
The Russian Foreign Ministry (MID) said “ensuring durable and reliable security in the South Caucasus” cannot be achieved without “a legally binding agreement on the non-use of force” between Tbilisi and the occupied regions, adding that the document would be “a significant contribution to the creation of a stable and secure environment in the border area and in the region as a whole.”
“The urgency of such a document is dictated, among other things, by the increased military-political activity of the U.S. and NATO in the Transcaucasus, including plans for Georgia’s forced integration into NATO,” the MID claimed.
Participants from Tskhinvali also deemed an agreement on the non-use of force as necessary “to ensure durable security guarantees” from Tbilisi, as well as “to strengthen the existing structure of regional security.” Moreover, the Tskhinvali delegation reiterated concerns over Tbilisi setting up a fortified post in the Chorchana-Tsnelisi area.
Noting that the participants assessed the situation along the dividing lines “as a whole remaining under control,” Moscow, Sokhumi, and Tskhinvali underscored that “tension could be further reduced” by the “delimitation of the borders” between Georgia proper and the two regions.
The delegations of Russia and the occupied regions also drew attention to “the ongoing anti-Russian rhetoric of Tbilisi” and “attempts to isolate” Sokhumi and Tskhinvali, noting that this approach “impedes the formation of a constructive atmosphere” at the Geneva talks, and also undermines “the full-fledged functioning of the humanitarian group.”
“In particular, we are talking about the politicized [UN General Assembly] resolution on IDPs and refugees,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said, adding that “representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are still deprived of the right to present their point of view on this issue” through the UNGA.
According to participants from Sokhumi, “attention was focused on the development and agreement of a joint document on international guarantees of the non-use of force” with them proposing “a new version of the text,” while the “Georgian side again refused to respond.”
The participants from Sokhumi also expressed “serious concern over the deepening of Georgia’s military-technical cooperation with the U.S. and NATO,” stressing that this “could lead to unpredictable consequences and provoke a new escalation of tension in the region.” On its part, the Abkhaz side confirmed its intention to continue military-technical cooperation with Moscow.
Sokhumi also said “all participants in the meeting expressed unanimous support for the need to take joint steps to unblock the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism (IPRM)” in Gali.
GID Co-Chairs’ Assessment
The GID Co-Chairs issued a separate press communiqué, stating that “participants reviewed a number of issues including detention cases, missing persons, freedom of movement, and the security situation in certain areas.”
According to the statement, the participants assessed the security situation on the ground “as relatively calm and stable,” while “focus was given to the core agenda item of non-use of force and international security arrangements.”
The GID Co-Chairs noted that sides discussed possibilities for joint efforts to mitigate the impact of the pandemic “on humanitarian and socio-economic situations and threats to livelihoods in the occupied regions.”
However, according to the statement, “a discussion on the core issue of IDPs and refugees could not take place” as “some participants walked out.”
While the GID Co-Chairs expressed concern over issues regarding freedom of movement, they welcomed eased rules for crossing on the Enguri crossing point, which allows certain residents, including the elderly, pensioners, and persons with special needs, to travel to Tbilisi-controlled territory and back.
The Co-Chairs also welcomed the continued meetings of the IPRM in Ergneti, as well as stressed “the need to resume regular meetings of the Gali IPRM as soon as possible.”