The groundwork done during the last few months has been worthwhile: within the framework of the Geneva International Discussions on the conflicts in Georgia, the participants decided on 23 March, after a four-year period of deadlock, to re-instate the prevention mechanisms for incidents in Abkhazia. Ahead of the meeting, Ambassador Günther Bächler, the Special Representative of the German OSCE Chairmanship, conducted in-depth preparatory talks in the southern Caucasus. As co-chair of the Geneva International Discussions, he also travelled with his EU and United Nations counterparts to Georgia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Russia for consultations.
OSCE Special Representative Bächler co-chaired the Geneva International Discussions on the Georgia conflict for the first time on 23 March. Despite the difficult situation, the talks had a positive impact:
Although the stalemate in the southern Caucasus will not change so quickly, the current round of talks in Geneva showed in an impressive way that – thanks to focused engagement together with partners in the United Nations and the EU and in close dialogue with all participants – the OSCE Chairmanship can make a concrete contribution towards conflict prevention. A crisis prevention mechanism has proved its worth in the past at the administrative line with the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia; the hotline installed and the regular talks help to tackle local problems between the sides, to improve the quality of living of those directly affected and to diminish the risk of an unwanted escalation. The participants in the Geneva International Discussions have now agreed to revive an analogue mechanism for the Abkhazian context.
Numerous preparatory talks in the region
In Georgia, Bächler met the President, the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister, other members of the Cabinet, as well as the Prosecutor-General, the Ombudsman and many representatives of civil society in preparation of the Geneva International Discussions. Moreover, he travelled together with EU and UN representatives to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. where the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions met the authorities – which have not been recognised internationally – of the breakaway regions. In Moscow, they met the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Grigory Karasin.
The three co-chairs focused on issues which they believed were especially urgent, as well as spheres in which progress is possible. “This means listening to the other party to the conflict, even when that is especially difficult for individual participants because they cannot accept the statements made by the other side”, said Bächler, who has much experience as a peace process mediator.
Concessions as the basis for a constructive atmosphere
Ahead of the talks in Geneva, concrete measures were taken to help create a constructive atmosphere as a basis for further steps: for example, Bächler handed over an OSCE report on three young men missing since 2008. On 10 March, the sides involved released 17 long-term prisoners simultaneously. Furthermore, an extensive irrigation system for farmers on both sides of the dividing-line with South Ossetia was restored.
At the actual Geneva International Discussions, alongside the relatively quiet security situation, the question as to how a mutual renunciation of the use of force can be anchored, as well as other issues, were addressed. Matters relating to language and education, cultural heritage as well as environmental issues were also discussed.
The small but substantial successes should not detract attention away from the fact that the political and military situation in the southern Caucasus remains tense. Bächler is convinced that the OSCE is a key instrument for crisis prevention and conflict transformation, even if rapid progress is not in sight.