Updated 10/15 11:40 AM EST
Peace talks planned for today in Geneva between Russia and Georgia have broken down after Russia refused to attend. Abkhazian Foreign Minister Sergei Chamba says there will now be two separate Geneva meetings, one for Russia and its allies and another for the Georgians.
Russian negotiators said they thought the talks should include representatives from the breakaway enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, since their status is likely to be one of the major topics of discussion. But Georgian officials challenged the attendance, with Georgia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria claiming that attendance by representatives of these “proxy regimes” would “ruin these negotiations.”
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili went a step further, condemning members of the governments of the contentious regions as “criminals from our point of view and the point of view of international criminal law.” He also demanded that Russia end its “occupation” of the regions, which he has vowed to return to Georgian control eventually. Minister Bokeria accused Russia of “annexation of two Georgian regions.”
Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia enjoyed a large measure of autonomy and de facto independence for years before the recent conflict broke out, and Russian troops had been stationed in the regions much to the chagrin of Georgia’s government. And while Russia agreed to pull out from a buffer zone between Georgia and the regions which it established after the war, it has kept troops in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with the blessing of the governments presently in power there.
NATO officials have condemned Russia for keeping the troops in the regions, and the decision has been a matter of contention for some European Union member states. Still, Russia has recognized the independence of both regions, and signed agreements promising to protect them from any future Georgian incursions, such as the one which sparked the August conflict. The United States has vowed to use its position as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to ensure that neither Abkhazia nor South Ossetia is ever recognized as independent by the international community.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that today’s talks were to be just “a beginning” and that “we need to have some patience.