On 17 May, Georgian government officials criticised EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus and co-chair of the Geneva Discussions, Herbert Salber, after his recent visit to South Ossetia. Salber had congratulated newly elected president of South Ossetia, Anatoly Bibilov, on his electoral victory during the meeting in Tskhinvali (Tskhinval) on 16 May.
‘I would like to congratulate you on the results of the election which was held here recently, and to congratulate you on assuming this important office, which you now have’, Salber told Bibilov.
During his visit to South Ossetia, Salber also discussed the need for an agreement on the non-use of force to be signed, likely referring to a contentious issue of a hypothetical agreement between South Ossetia and Georgia. Georgia has argued that South Ossetia and Abkhazia, as ‘Russian-occupied territories’, would not be legitimate signatories to such agreements, and has instead insisted on signing the same agreement with Russia.
‘We very much hope that soon we will be able to adopt such a short text — we talked about it with your officials for a long time — and if it happens, it will probably give an impulse for further work. This will not be the end of these works. We know for sure that this very issue — the non-use of force — plays a very important role for security here in the region and we intend to continue [working on] this issue — if possible, towards a solution in the sense that we will have a legally binding document, but we’re not at this stage yet’, Salber said.
Georgia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Davit Dondua, responded that the statements from the EU representative are unacceptable for Georgia.
‘What we have heard from the EU special representative and co-chair of the Geneva Discussions, to put it mildly, is unacceptable and incomprehensible. It is contrary to the principles of international law’, Dondua said.
The head of the EU Delegation to Georgia, János Herman, was summoned to the Georgian Foreign Ministry for an explanation. He told media that the official position of the EU was to not recognise the elections in South Ossetia, and to support Georgia’s territorial integrity.
‘I told Mister Deputy Foreign Minister Dondua at our recent meeting and I would like now to reiterate with clarity that the European Union does not recognise the framework in which the so-called elections took place in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia. Let me also say that if we do not recognise the framework, it is logical to add that therefore we do not recognise the results of them either. Let me say just two words about what we, yes, do recognise and firmly support. It is the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia’, Herman said.
Minister for Reconciliation and Civic Equality Ketevan Tsikhelashvili commented on Salber’s statement by saying that it didn’t represent the official position of the EU.
‘The European Union has also taken a very clear position on the so-called election and its legitimacy. There are no grounds to question the EU’s position’, Tsikhelashvili said.
Currently, preparations for the 40th round of the Geneva Discussions are underway, of which Salber’s visit to South Ossetia was a part.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry questioned the necessity of the Geneva Discussions on 5 May, in response to a statement on 3 May from the Council of Europe supporting Georgia’s territorial integrity.
‘Is it surprising that the Georgian delegation systematically refuses to work constructively at the Geneva Discussions on security issues in Transcaucasia? In this situation, one has to seriously think about continuing the Geneva meetings in their current format’, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement reads.
The Geneva Discussions are a format set up in the aftermath of the 2008 war in South Ossetia. They are co-chaired by representatives of the EU, UN, and OSCE and involve negotiators from Georgia, Russia, the United States, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.
Anatoly Bibilov won presidential elections in South Ossetia on 9 April with 58% of the vote, unseating incumbent Leonid Tibilov, who came in second with 30% of votes.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.