Russia-Georgia Talks Aim to Prevent Another Flare-up

On Aug. 7, 2008, Georgia launched a military operation to take control of the breakaway province of South Ossetia. Russia responded by sending tanks and jets to defend the region’s population, touching off an international outcry over the severity of the response.

Tensions heightened again after the war when Russia recognized the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states and stationed thousands of troops in both places.

Last month, Russia vetoed a Western-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution to extend the mandate to about 130 U.N. monitors in Abkhazia because of wording in the measure that reaffirmed Georgia’s territorial integrity.

U.N. monitors began pulling out of Georgia on Tuesday and would completely withdraw by July 15, according to U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet, Abkhaz media reported.

Greek Foreign Minister and Chairwoman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Dora Bakoyanni lamented the move, saying, “As a result, one of the largest on-the-ground missions of the OSCE in the region was led to an end — despite the clear need, recognized by many states taking part in it, for the organization to be present in order to contribute toward security and stability in the region,” quoted Reuters.

This week, Russia also began military exercises involving 8,500 troops in the Caucasus, north of Georgia. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said he did not think the exercises had a “belligerent approach,” according to the Agence France-Presse.

But Georgian First Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Bokeria said he considered them a “very threatening step,” though he went on to say that Wednesday’s talks in Geneva provided an opportunity to “discuss the most important issue, new security arrangements on the ground” and the “non-use of force,” Reuters reported.

“The discussions took place in a constructive spirit,” according to a joint statement released by mediators from the United Nations, EU and OSCE. More negotiations will take place in Abkhazia’s eastern Gali region on July 14 and in Geneva on Sept. 17, they said.

The two sides also “agreed to move towards a comprehensive plan” to address humanitarian issues surrounding people displaced by the conflict, one of the more controversial issues on the table, the joint statement said, reported the AFP.