Georgia Wants a Tête-à-Tête with Separatists
Georgia on August 8 vowed to start direct talks with the representatives of breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but it may need first to deal with that uninvited party to the conversation, Russia.
Speaking on the fifth anniversary of Georgia's 2008 war with Russia over the two territories, Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili called on Georgians to wipe the slate clean and collectively reach out to the regions, now located behind a line of Russian troops. “We need to get the strength to forgive...but also we have to accept our own mistakes and undo what still can be undone,” Ivanishvili said, Georgian news outlets reported.
“We are ready for a direct dialogue with our Abkhaz and Ossetian brothers,” he went on to say. “I am confident that we will find a common language to work toward a shared future.”
One Georgian government minister specified later that Tbilisi does not intend to accept in any way the regions' Russian-backed claims to independence from Georgia. “This means restoring mutual trust between the peoples and by no means between subjects of international law,” said Alex Petriashvili, the state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, Netgazeti.ge reported.
State Minister for Reintegration Paata Zakareishvili told RFE/RL's Georgian service that the new policy would mark a change from the more maximalist, nationalist sentiments that existed prior to the war and an attempt to be more accommodating to the interests of the breakaway regions.
He denied allegations that Tbilisi was following advice from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who, several days before, had suggested that Georgia engage directly with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Although people-to-people contacts and direct dialogue constitute essential boxes on any international peace negotiator's to-do list, the chances appear slim that either Sokhumi or Tskhinvali will be particularly eager right now to sit down for a one-on-one chat with Tbilisi.
Representatives of the de-facto Abkhaz government do not appear to have commented yet on Ivanishvili's statement, but, in earlier interviews with EurasiaNet.org reporters, have emphasized that their declaration of independence from Georgia is not open for negotiation.
In an August 8 interview with the South Ossetian news site Res, South Ossetia's de-facto foreign minister, David Sanakoyev, sounded a similar line. "There can be relations with Georgia only after it provides a political and legal assessment of its actions against the citizens of the Republic of South Ossetia, provides security guarantees and redresses the damage it did to our Republic, admits to all crimes against South Ossetia . . .and punishes all perpetrators. . ." Sanakoyev said.
Even if Sokhumi or Tskhinvali did decide to talk, however, it is unclear how much room for independent-decision making there will be. Medvedev claimed that Russia is not part of Tbilisi’s problem with the two regions, but Moscow went to war for South Ossetia, keeps both territories under heavy military guard (and has decided to build a fence to take some houses and fields on Tbilisi-controlled territory bordering South Ossetia under its guard as well), and is pushing for their recognition internationally.
The Georgian government has yet to make specific moves toward the broader idea of dialogue. In the meantime, it's anybody's guess how they will conduct a Russia-free dialogue with Abkhazia or South Ossetia when all sides are surrounded by the Russian army.