Tbilisi: Russian-Georgian talks collapse

The Messenger, Georgia
Feb 14 2005

Russian-Georgian talks collapse

Each side accuses the other of causing latest failure to secure
agreement over the withdrawal of Russian military bases in Georgia
By Anna Arzanova

Giga Bokeria
Russian Minister sergei Lavrov
The visit of Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov to
Georgia, scheduled for February 18, comes on the back of yet another
failure to reach agreement on the withdrawal of Russian military
bases stationed in Akhalkalaki, near the Armenian border, and Batumi
in Adjara.

Negotiations on the issue held on Friday, February 11 were intended
as preparation for further talks during Lavrov’s visit, when the
creation of a joint antiterrorist center in Georgia will also be
discussed, but the negotiations fell through, and the two sides are
still unable to agree the main aspects of a framework agreement.

The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs accuses the Russian
delegation of causing the negotiations to fail, while the Russian
side for its part accuse Georgia of side-stepping the issue of
setting up anti-terrorism centers.

“We tried to find all compromise formulations, but finally there was
a situation where variants were offered which put under doubt the
possibility of the creation of the anti-terrorist centers,” Russian
Foreign Ministry official Igor Savolski stated.

According to him, the stumbling block was how to treat and how to
fulfill earlier reached agreements regarding the creation of the
antiterrorist center. “That is why we need to think about this well
and to gather with the Georgian side once again and discuss this
issue again,” Savolski said, explaining that nothing had been agreed
at this particular round of negotiations.

In an interview with Russian news agencies Savolski added that “the
issue of the two Russian military bases located in Georgia is to be
discussed together with the creation of an anti-terrorist center or
centers based on their infrastructure” when Lavrov arrives.

Whether any progress will be made when Lavrov arrives, however,
remains to be seen. The Georgian side complains that Russia is trying
to use the creation of anti-terrorism centers as a means to keep its
military bases in the country.

“As it seems, Russia wants only to change the name of its military
bases in Georgia and label them, according to their version, as
anti-terrorist centers. But they will remain in Georgia all the
same,” said MP Giga Bokeria, who also participated in the
negotiations, adding that such a state of affairs is absolutely
inadmissible for Tbilisi.

“Any agreement on renaming the military bases has no sense and no
prospects,” he said.

Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia Merab Antadze issued a similar
message, telling journalists after the negotiations that
unfortunately, despite the serious efforts and compromises of the
Georgia side, the Russian side was not prepared to reach an
agreement, because of which the negotiations failed.

“Moreover, on the background of such approaches, I can draw the
conclusion that there is no sense in any future negotiations on this
issue in such a format and approaches,” Antadze said, while Georgian
Ambassador to Russia and Finance Minister nominee Valeri
Chechelashvili, who participated in talks, told Civil Georgia on
February 11 that, “The vision of the Russian side regarding the joint
anti-terrorist center triggers doubts over reaching an agreement.”

“An absolutely clear plan was given to them on the grounds of which
we should have established the process of the Russian military bases
withdrawal,” he said, explaining that agreement must be reached first
on the terms and timeframe of the withdrawal of Russian military
bases, before negotiations regarding an anti-terrorism center begin.

“We proposed to set up working groups of experts, who will work on
the anti-terrorism center only after we sign an agreement regarding
the pullout of military bases,” Antadze told Civil Ge.

MP Giga Bokeria, meanwhile, says that the time may have come for
Georgia to stop negotiating regarding the withdrawal of Russian
military bases.

“It is time for Georgia to think about the absolute demand of the
withdrawal of Russian military bases, to cease negotiations on this
issue, and to announce that these base are illegal,” Bokeria told
journalists, adding that the legislative body may adopt such a
standpoint very soon and that such a position would be acceptable to
international law.

A member of the Right Wing Opposition Pikria Chikhradze promised to
support such an approach to this matter, but “it is not enough in
this case for only Parliament [to take such a line]. This issue
should be put at the highest level by the president.”

Conservative leader Zviad Dzidziguri told Imedi TV on February 12,
meanwhile, that his party supports the government line on this issue.
“It does not matter what name this military base has if it retains
control and influence over Georgia and the political situation here,”
he said.