|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Foreign Affairs Minister of Georgia
Georgia stood ready to talk with the Russian Federation “anytime, anywhere” without any conditions but one: that Russia respect international law and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbours, Georgia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Grigol Vashadze, told correspondents today at Headquarters.
Answering several questions at the press conference regarding the relationship between Georgia and the Russian Federation since the five-day war in August 2008, Mr. Vashadze said Russians never spoke with the democratically elected leaders of Georgia. Instead, they put forward representatives of the Abkhazian and Ossetian regions, which had unilaterally declared independence. The Russians had painted themselves into a corner by recognizing that independence. Because of that, the Geneva talks had come to a halt. Although Georgia was committed to the Geneva talks as a future vehicle to resolve the problems quickly if Russia chose to participate, he advised participants that “time wasted could never be gotten back”. The occupation was as much a problem for Russia as it was for Georgia, after all.
Georgia, however, was getting more and more support from the international community as countries came understand that the Russian actions were against international law, he said, mentioning in that regard Canada, New Zealand and the Baltic countries, as well as the decision of the European Union not to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent States. The international community also had come to realize that ethnic cleansing on the part of the Russians had been taking place.
He said, meanwhile, that Georgian relations with the United States were good as ever. The fact that United States President Barack Obama had not met with the Georgian President was not a “snub”, but rather due to the fact that the United States President was occupied with internal affairs. During the Washington, D.C., Summit, the two Presidents had had a frank exchange of ideas. The better the relations between the United States and the Russian Federation, the better it was for Georgia, as United States diplomats could bring up the issue with the Russians at every occasion.
After the Russian Federation’s unfortunate veto of the Security Council resolution on the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), the issue had not been on the Council’s agenda. The only venue left open now was the General Assembly. He was awaiting the Secretary-General’s report on the issue, which he expected to be non-biased, a hope he had expressed to the Secretary-General during his discussion with him.
To a question about Russia’s proposal to sign an agreement on the non-use of force, he said Georgia would sign any agreement with the Russian Federation anytime, anywhere. Such an agreement, however, was not necessary, however, as it was already part of the ceasefire agreement. Moreover, the Russian Federation would not sign the agreement. The “catch 22” of the proposal lay in the fact that the agreement would be signed by representatives of the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. A signature by Georgia would add to their legitimacy. The unilateral declarations of their independence were illegal, as was their recognition by the Russian Federation and other countries, such as Nicaragua. Georgia would not recognize the independence of Kosovo for that very reason.
He said the situation on the ground unfortunately remained unchanged. Georgia counted more than 400,000 refugees and internally displaced persons from South Ossetia and Abkhazia -– 10 per cent of its population -– and 20 per cent of its territory was occupied by Russian troops. Some 10,000 Russian troops were stationed along the occupation line, while some 10,000 were serving in Abkhazia in contradiction of the 1999 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit obligations. Moreover, the Russian Federation was close to opening five military bases in South Ossetia. No Georgians lived in South Ossetia anymore, while only in one part of Abkhazia, Georgians were allowed to live under deplorable living conditions. The Russian incursion had cost the lives of 410 Georgians, including some 170 military and police. Thirty citizens were still missing in action.
A resolution of the issue should be pursued with perseverance and patience, he said. The Georgian strategy was being played out on two fronts: legal issues; and competition on matters such as democracy and human rights. That competition was being won by Georgia, as many Russian soldiers had come to live in Georgia and about half of the Ossetian population was now in Georgia as refugees, because they did not want to live in their place of origin anymore. The Russian Federation had denied the right of return of refugees and internally displaced persons.
On the legal side, he said Georgia had filed a case with the International Court of Justice, and the world Court had ruled that the issue was within its competence. The case would be taken up in September, and he thought Georgia would win it handily, as the issues were obvious. Also, an International Criminal Court delegation had come to Georgia, where it had had access to all archival material. Since the delegation had been denied access to archives in the Russian Federation and to the occupied territories, the International Criminal Court could not continue its investigation. Although Georgia was hampered by a lack of human resources, it would weigh any legal action, including an appeal to the Human Rights Council.
Progress was being made on Georgia’s aspiration to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he replied to another question. Some of NATO’s founding members had prepared a draft decision to elevate Georgia to another level of relationship, while a NATO-Georgia commission had been created. It was now up to Georgia to bring its standards of human rights and democracy up to those required by NATO. He remarked in that regard that reports about possible irregularities during the upcoming 30 May elections were unfounded. The Electoral Commission was working with full transparency, and observers from all over the world had been invited.
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