On the third anniversary of their war over South Ossetia, talks between Georgia and Russia are needed to create positive momentum in a still unstable environment.
Georgia-Russia: Learn to Live like Neighbours , the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the continuing strains and recommends the two sides engage in direct dialogue and de-escalate allegations about the other’s involvement in terrorism. While formal diplomatic relations remain suspended, many mutual interests remain.
“Georgia and Russia share interests in improving mutual security, trade and transport”, says Lawrence Sheets, Crisis Group’s Caucasus Project Director. “They should agree to start discussions on these issues and any other areas of concern without preconditions”.
In August 2008, longstanding bilateral tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia escalated to armed combat that ended only when the EU Presidency brokered a ceasefire. Key elements such as Russian withdrawal to positions held before the war have not been implemented. Moscow has recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent, maintains thousands of troops and is building large military bases in each and has done nothing to facilitate the return of displaced persons. The international community should do more to press Russia to abide by its 2008 commitments.
The ceasefire set up a process to bring the parties to the conflict together to talk in Geneva every few months, but it has had only modest success in setting up mechanisms to exchange information on security incidents. It should be continued, but in addition direct talks between Russia and Georgia should occur without preconditions.
Even in the present environment of distrust, positive examples of dialogue exist. The countries are negotiating, with Swiss mediation, on Russian’s candidacy for membership in the World Trade Organization and have also signed energy agreements.
“Political discourse and media in Russia and Georgia are preoccupied with the bitter relationship”, says Sabine Freizer, Director of Crisis Group’s Europe Program. “But dialogue is needed to restore stability in a fragile region where both countries would benefit from working together to meet common security and economic challenges”.