Abkhazia: Dispute over Participation
Below is an article published by the International Herald Tribune:
International talks about the future security and stability of the Caucuses region following the Georgian-Russian war in South Ossetia were downgraded because of a dispute over participation, diplomats said Monday [13 October 2008].
The meeting on Wednesday [15 October 2008] — under the joint leadership of the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — had been expected to bring ministers or high-ranking officials to Geneva for substantive discussions.
According to a Russian diplomat, the main reason for downgrading the talks was the refusal to allow the participation of representatives of South Ossetia and Abkhazia — both [...] regions of Georgia whose independence was recognized by Russia after the conflict.
Georgia strongly opposes the inclusion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which it still considers part of its territory, in any talks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be arriving in Geneva on Tuesday [14 October 2008] but he is sending his new Georgian envoy, Johan Verbeke, to what U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas called "a technical meeting" on Wednesday [15 October 2008].
Ban plans to meet with officials from the OSCE and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the EU presidency, on Tuesday [14 October 2008], Montas said.
The Russian diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were conducted in private, said that without the participation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow didn't see the need for a high-level discussion.
The diplomat said he expects the technical talks to continue, with meetings about every two weeks.
The five-day war erupted Aug. 7  when Georgian forces launched an attack to regain control of South Ossetia. Russian forces repelled the attack and drove deep into Georgia. Soon after the fighting ended, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Under the six-point agreement between Russia and the European Union that halted the fighting in mid-August , an international meeting was to be held on Oct. 15  to discuss stability and security in the region as well as the situation of refugees.
Tensions between the two former Soviet states have escalated for years over Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have close ties to Moscow and have been independently run since the early 1990s when fighting with Georgian troops ended.
Georgia's pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili has cultivated close ties with Washington and pushed to bring his nation into NATO. Georgia straddles a key westward route for oil and gas from the Caspian Sea region, and has become a focus of competition between Russia and the West for regional clout.
Last week [October 2008], the U.N. Security Council extended its peacekeeping mission in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone for another four months. This buys time for Russia, the United States and the EU to work out differences over how to proceed with the U.N.'s observer mission in light of the Russian-Georgian war in August.
The issue is almost certain to be on the agenda of Ban's meetings on Tuesday [14 October 2008].