Preparations are advancing for discussions to open in Geneva on October 15, ostensibly based on the French-mediated armistice in the Russia-Georgia conflict. Russia, Georgia, the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and the OSCE are to participate in these discussions at the level of senior officials.
The final point in the six-point armistice document reads, “Opening international discussions on the modalities of sustainable security in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, based on decisions by the United Nations and the OSCE” (see EDM, August 13, 18, and 19). The European Union and the United States fully endorsed the August armistice as brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Russia promptly breached that stipulation (along with the other ones) in three major ways. First, by unilaterally “recognizing” the “independence” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and establishing “diplomatic relations” with them. Second, by announcing its intention to deploy 7,600 Russian troops on a long-term basis in the two territories. And third, by ignoring all those UN and OSCE decisions that had enshrined Georgia’s territorial integrity, at least pro forma. The Russian solution seeks, on the contrary, to enshrine the results of ethnic cleansing and de facto annexation of the territories. Russia’s unilateral moves have, in effect, preempted the discussions and any internationally negotiated outcome.
Nevertheless, Georgia along with the United States and the EU seek to maintain the principle of Georgia’s territorial integrity in the Geneva discussions. They plan to insist on Russian compliance with all six points of the Sarkozy-mediated armistice, hoping to reverse at least some of the results of Russia’s past and continuing use of force within Georgia. Foremost among these issues is fulfillment of point three (“Free access for humanitarian assistance and permission for refugees to return”) and point five (“Withdrawal of forces to the positions [held] prior to the start of hostilities”). Point three could open the way toward a negotiated return of Georgian refugees to their homes. Point five would require the withdrawal of Russian forces deployed after August 7 to South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and the Russian-created “security zones” in Georgia’s interior. Russia agreed in September to withdraw from the “security zones” by October 10, but it insists on keeping two brigade-strength contingents (3,800 troops each) under bilateral arrangements with the Abkhaz and South Ossetian authorities, respectively.
Meanwhile, Russia seeks to divert the Geneva discussions away from issues of armistice fulfillment, raising instead extraneous issues unrelated to the armistice as such. According to Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov, Russia wants the meeting to proceed from determining that Georgia was the aggressor; ostracize the Georgian government for that “crime;” and approve some measures to prevent a repetition of Georgian “aggression.” Lavrov openly hopes for support from “Germany, Italy, and some other European countries” for those Russian goals at Geneva (Interfax, October 3, 4). The first of those goals would, if achieved, whitewash Russia of responsibility for 16 years of continuing military intervention and seizure of Georgian territories, ethnic cleansing, and ultimately the overt annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the spring and summer months of this year. This should be obvious even to those elements in the German and Italian governments on whose sympathy Moscow counts. The second goal on Lavrov’s list could, if achieved at Geneva, destabilize Georgia and pave the way for removing the Georgian government: not with a brutal Russian push, but with an elegant Western nudge. Moscow’s third goal is Western consent to long-term stationing of Russian forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as the signing of non-use-of-force agreements by Tbilisi with the two secessionist authorities. This would legitimize the two secessions as well as Russia’s military presence to “guarantee” observance of the nonaggression agreements. In talks with U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle in Moscow in preparation for the Geneva meeting Russian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Grigory Karasin called for “strong guarantees on non-use of force by Georgia” (Interfax, September 30).
Moscow well understands that international recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is a non-starter in the Geneva discussions and not only there. Even the German government has made this clear and public, most recently at the inter-governmental consultations in St. Petersburg on October 2 (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, October 3-5). The Russians, however, are pressing for their other goals at Geneva, hoping to divide the Europeans among themselves and away from the United States: “We want to be clear about who is an impartial participant in the peace process and who [on the other hand] supports those who killed Russian peacekeepers and Russian citizens” (Interfax, October 3, 4). Lavrov’s warning implies that Moscow will interpret the European positions on the Russia-Georgia conflict as a test of the various governments’ bilateral relations with Russia.