RFE/RL -- Abkhazia will not attend the next round of talks scheduled for July 27 in Geneva on security issues in the wake of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war, Abkhaz presidential administration head Nadir Bitiyev announced on June 23.
Bitiyev stressed that "no one doubts the expediency" of those talks. But he went on to complain that the proposals of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides are ignored, and the discussion of an agreement on the non-resumption of hostilities is relegated to the back burner in favor of "secondary issues" that have no bearing on security.
One week previously, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Maksim Gvindjia similarly stressed that Abkhazia considers the Geneva talks "a very important mechanism that it is essential to support...a forum at which we can exchange information."
The Geneva process was one of the points agreed on during a meeting on September 8, 2008, between the presidents of France and Russia, Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev, that was intended to flesh out the cease-fire agreement the two men hammered out during talks in Moscow on August 12. The sixth and final point of the cease-fire agreement, which was signed before Russia formally recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states on August 26, 2008, called for internationally mediated talks on security guarantees for the two republics.
The September 8 agreement called for internationally mediated discussions focusing specifically on "security and stability in the region" following the anticipated withdrawal by October 10 of Russian forces from the conflict zones, and on the subsequent return of displaced persons to their homes in accordance with "recognized principles and practice of post-conflict settlement."
The first Geneva meeting took place on October 15, 2008; two working groups were established that focus respectively on security and humanitarian issues. The most recent round of talks, on June 7-8, was the eleventh. In the wake of that round, one member of the Abkhaz delegation told Caucasus Knot that the international mediators seem unwilling or unable to understand their concerns.
The Abkhaz frustration centers on the unwillingness of the Georgian delegation to discuss what the Abkhaz consider the key issue at stake, namely the drafting of a binding agreement on the non-use of military force, to be signed by Georgia, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
The United States argues that such a formal document is unnecessary as the first point of the Sarkozy-Medvedev cease-fire agreement of August 12, 2008, which Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili also signed, contains a pledge of the non-use of force. A statement issued by the U.S. delegation in the wake of the June 8 Geneva talks further makes the point that the cease-fire agreement also entails a withdrawal of Russian forces from districts of Abkhazia and South Ossetia they occupied during the August 2008 war, and that Russia has not yet complied with that requirement.
Georgia for its part says it is willing to sign an agreement with Russia on the non-use of force, but not with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it does not consider independent actors.
Caucasus Knot on May 14 quoted Ambassador Pierre Morel, the EU co-chairman of the Geneva talks, as saying he considers an agreement on the non-use of force "a key component of our activities." But Morel did not say which parties he thinks should sign it.
A draft document on the non-use of force is apparently on the table, but the Abkhaz and South Ossetian sides consider it unacceptable for reasons that remain unclear. According to Gvindjia, their representatives walked out of the June 8 working group meeting on security issues to underscore their rejection of that draft.
Bitiyev said on June 23 that the rationale for Abkhazia's decision not to participate in the July 27 talks was to give the three international mediators time "to draft a realistic document acceptable to all sides."
South Ossetia has not yet clarified whether it will attend the July 27 round of talks, nor has it commented on the Abkhaz decision not to do so.
Meanwhile, Abkhaz Prime Minister Sergei Shamba, Gvindjia's predecessor as foreign minister, said in a June 24 interview with Apsnipress
that Abkhazia is not an occupied country, that it has no intention of again becoming a part of the Georgian state, and that it categorically rejects Georgia's "State Strategy with Regard to the Occupied Territories" intended to induce Abkhazia and South Ossetia to abjure their self-proclaimed independence. Shamba said that in his view, the sole aim of that strategy "is to beg money from the naïve Europeans" to finance a new Georgian assault.
Shamba stressed that Abkhazia hopes to establish friendly relations with Russia, Turkey, the EU, and Georgia once that latter country stops regarding Abkhazia as part of its territory. He lauded the EU strategy toward Abkhazia of "engagement without recognition," but said that in the event that the post of special EU representative for the South Caucasus is abolished, Abkhazia will not consent to continue those talks with EU representatives based in Georgia.