GENEVA (Reuters) – Talks over Georgia’s Moscow-backed breakaway regions were suspended until next month as soon as they started on Wednesday, with both Russia and Georgia blaming each other for the breakdown.
The European Union’s special envoy for Georgia said the talks hit an impasse because of “procedural difficulties.”
A compromise allowing the participation of representatives from South Ossetia and Abkhazia proved impossible to find, comments from Russian and Georgian participants showed.
Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war in August and remain at odds over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two breakaway Georgian provinces that Moscow has recognized as independent states under its protection.
“All of the parties expressed their points of view. Today we encountered procedural difficulties. That is why we decided to suspend the discussions this afternoon and pursue the process of discussions,” EU envoy Pierre Morel told a briefing.
He said new talks had been provisionally set for November 18.
The European Union, United Nations and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had organized the one-day meeting, which they had hoped would lead to talks every two weeks to build confidence and help resolve the conflict.
In Brussels Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili blamed Russia for the failure of the first day’s talks.
“Russia has just walked out of the Geneva talks … which basically means that Russia has no interest whatsoever at this stage in any diplomatic process,” he told reporters in Brussels.
But the head of Russia’s delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, said the meeting had launched a process to resolve the conflict with the participation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“The event was de facto broken up by Georgia, which refused to take part in the plenary session,” Interfax news agency quoted Karasin as saying. “They failed to break up the meeting, it took place and that is extremely important.”
Feverish diplomatic efforts to find an acceptable format for the talks included a news blackout and a ban on photographers from taking pictures of the delegations as they entered the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva.
The United States, which sees Georgia as an ally in the volatile Caucasus region, also took part in the talks.
“The talks will address compliance with the ceasefire, security issues, the return of internally displaced persons and human rights,” the U.S. delegation said in a brief statement earlier in the day.
Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake South Ossetia, which threw off its rule in 1991-92. Russia responded with a powerful counter-strike, driving the Georgian army out of South Ossetia.
Moscow’s troops then pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks.
On Wednesday the UN’s highest court ordered Russia and Georgia to ensure the security of all ethnic groups in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and adjacent areas of Georgia.