Tense climate haunts Russia-Georgia meeting

17th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

The painstaking process is meant to prevent a renewed flare-up around the Moscow-backed rebellious Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following last August's confrontation in South Ossetia.

Geneva -- Russia and Georgia are due to hold on Monday a fifth round of security and humanitarian talks since their brief war last year, with little sign that the tense climate in the region is easing.

Diplomats were expecting little progress to be made at the two-day meeting in Geneva brokered by the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations.

The painstaking process is meant to prevent a renewed flare-up around the Moscow-backed rebellious Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia following last August's confrontation in South Ossetia.

But cracks have been appearing since the last round of talks in February.

On Saturday, Abkhazia's separatist administration reportedly said it would boycott the Geneva talks in protest at how the UN described the region's status, although a western source said such reports were common before the talks.

Just ten days ago, Georgia accused Russia of encouraging a mutiny by army officers before NATO exercises, prompting Russian Vice Foreign Minister Grigori Karassin -- a regular participant in the Geneva talks --to retort that Tbilisi was a destabilising factor in region.

Meanwhile, a security meeting between Georgian, Russian and South Ossetian officials on the ground -- a key outcome of February's talks in Geneva -- was called off on May 7 because of disagreements about where it would be held.

Tbilisi and Moscow traded blame for the cancellation.

Domestic political tensions have also flared up in Georgia in recent weeks with renewed opposition protests against President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Discontent has partly been amplified by the crisis in Russian-Georgian relations after Tbilisi in effect lost control of Abhkazia and South Ossetia.

As a result, bringing the two states and separatist territories together at the United Nations in Geneva is something of a poker play and the "current climate is unfavourable", a western source close to the talks acknowledged.

"There has been some ill will," she admitted on Friday. "But all the delegations have stated their intention to come."

She also pointed to frequent meetings on the ground and claimed the process was working despite the breakdown earlier this month of the South Ossetia security meeting.

At the last round of talks in Geneva in February, Russia and Georgia took their first concrete steps to prevent a new military clash by accepting proposals to open up more immediate channels of communication between the forces on the ground.

But other security arrangements, including on militia movements and force build-ups, still have to be tackled.

The meeting in February also failed to produce an agreement on the second key area, humanitarian issues, including access to aid for Georgian populations in South Ossetia, and the return of refugees.

In further evidence of the tense climate, the OSCE announced last week that it was suspending talks on extending its mission in Georgia.

About 20 OSCE military observers are deployed there, along with 225 European Union observers, to monitor compliance with a ceasefire that halted the clash between Russia and Georgia in South Ossetia.

AFP/Expatica

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