Roundtable Meeting “Deoccupation of Ukraine and Georgia: Role of the State, International Organizations, and Civil Society Institutions”
On February 20, 2018 the Embassy of Ukraine in Georgia with supporting of Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies jointly organized a roundtable meeting on “Deoccupation of Ukraine and Georgia: Role of the State, International Organizations, and Civil Society Institutions”.
The event was dedicated to the fourth anniversary of the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation.
The event was aimed to hold a discussion with the engagement of the representatives of Georgian authorities, diplomatic missions, international organizations accredited in Georgia, non-governmental organizations and Mass-Media on the temporary occupation of the territories of Ukraine and Georgia - the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk oblasts as well as of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region by Russian Federation.
The welcoming address was delivered by Ms. Ekaterine Metreveli, the President of Rondeli Foundation and H.E. Mr. Ihor Dolhov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to Georgia. The distinguished speakers included: Mr. Refat Chubarov, MP, the Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, H.E. Mr. Sozar Subari, the Minister of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Accommodation and Refugees of Georgia, H.E. Ms. Ketevan Tsikhelashvili, the State Minister of Georgia for Reconciliation and Civic Equality, H.E. Mr. Niels Scott, the UN Resident Coordinator United Nations Resident Coordinator, UNDP Resident representative and Mr. Shota Utiashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation.
The event participants discussed the current political and social environment in the occupied territories and discussed the possible international support of Ukraine’s and Georgia’s efforts for peaceful deoccupation of their territories as well as the role of international organizations including the human rights organizations and other civil society institutions.
Ms. Ekaterine Metreveli expressed her concern about Russia violating the post-war European security architecture. As a result, demographic displacements have been taking place on the occupied territories of Ukraine and Georgia. These ethnic problems have to be kept in the spotlights and that should be one of the main aims of this roundtable meeting.
Mr. Ihor Dolhov reminded the participants that in the year 2018 a 100 years of diplomatic relations between Georgia and Ukraine are celebrated. A 100 years ago both Ukraine and Georgia gained independence after a long period of Russian rule. 10 years ago, in 2008, the Russian-Georgian war took place. In 2018, Mr. Dolhov stressed, we have to remember that for both Ukraine and Georgia the newly gained independence of 1918 only lasted for 3,5 years. On February 20 Ukraine also commemorates those who fell during the Maidan events of 2014. Furthermore, Mr. Dolhov highlighted the serious conclusions put on paper during last week’s Munich conference and president Poroshenko’s speech given at the conference that expressed grave concern about the advancement of the Russian 'Russki Mir' project.
Mr. Chubarov gave an emotional speech, focusing on the occupation of Crimea in 2014. He raised some specific questions, such as: What can a state do in an occupation scenario? He furthermore gave a reconstruction of his experience of the events of 2014, an overview of the current human rights problems on the peninsula (with a particular focus on the grave situation of the Crimean Tatars). He concluded that there was no sufficient international mechanism for resisting Russian aggression in 2014, but that Ukraine is in a very different position now than it was back in 2014.
Mr. Subari gave an overview of the situation on the occupied Abkhazian and South Ossetian territories. He highlighted that Russian leaders have recently expressed their support for the initiative of carrying out a referendum in South Ossetia that is similar to the referendum held in Crimea in 2014. This would mean that South Ossetia legally becomes a part of the Russian Federation. But Russia is not in a hurry to carry out this plan: keeping the status quo would mean that Russia has bargaining power in Georgia. Mr. Subari also said that the outcomes of the war in Luhansk and Donetsk may eventually bring about the same situation we currently observe in the occupied territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Mr. Subari highlighted the ethnic displacement that has taken place as a result of the occupation processes: currently there are 280 000 displaced persons in Georgia (including IDP’s from the Abkhazian war of the early 1990’s). In this way Mr. Subari connected the current Russian occupation of Abkhazia with its roots in the Abkhazian war of the early 1990’s: 25 years ago nobody expected that the occupation situation would carry on to this day. The Government is currently trying to improve the situation of the IDP’s by means of reintegration programs. Mr. Subari stressed that the reintegration of these groups should not be as problematic as it is now. Surprisingly, he added, figures show that the second generation of Abkhazian IDP’s (who have not lived in Abkhazia) still want to return to their home territory, which is not possible in the current situation. The Government therefore has the ambition to create favourable conditions for IDP’s, so they can keep their current housing on Georgian territory in case the Abkhazian situation improves and they are able to return to their home territory.
Ms. Tsikhelashvili pointed out that the current occupations in Ukraine and Georgia go back to the history a 100 years back and the Bolshevik occupation that took place then. She pointed out that currently 5 out of 6 countries suffer unresolved conflicts and that this is no coincidence. The problem of Georgia is therefore not the problem of one country, but a problem for the region and for Europe. The success [of Russia] in one country is an invitation to repeat ‘the adventure’ in another country, as can be seen with Georgia in 2008 and, consequently, Ukraine in 2014. With the occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia the identity of these territories are in danger, since their national projects often don’t coincide with the Russification process. In other words, the interests of locals are not taken into account by the occupiers. Data of the FSB [the Russian security services] shows that the number of Abkhazian inhabitants trying to cross the border to Georgian territory is three times higher than the number of Georgians trying to cross the border to Abkhazian territory. This does show the difficulties locals are facing on the occupied territories. Georgia’s policy towards the occupied territories can be summarised as follows: 1) keeping or protecting the current peace, 2) further support for the de-occupation process, 3) confidence building with locals on the occupied territories in areas of healthcare, energy and agriculture (this has to be done discretely, since authorities on the occupied territories are trying to impede these people-to-people contacts; as a result of the programs, the wires have increased on the borders with the occupied territories, which means that the programs do work).
Mr. Scott emphasised that progress has indeed been made in increasing people-to-people contacts between the occupied regions and Georgian territory, which would create an environment for establishing sustainable peace. This practice works in Georgia in the same way as it works everywhere else. Mr. Scott stressed that ‘human rights have no postal code’. He added that including women on all levels decision-making is an important dimension of creating sustainable peace and that this was further elaborated in Security Council Resolution 13/25.
Mr. Utiashvili, representing the civil society perspective, added that life is worse for everyone on occupied territories, even for those who might have initially supported the occupation. Proof for this can be found in the available data that show the abandonment of villages and whole parts of the occupied regions, with people often fleeing to Georgian territory. The reason for this is the economic difficulties that people on the occupied territories are facing.