- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

TBILISI, Georgia | Hundreds of Russian forces packed up and withdrew from positions Saturday in western Georgia, and a Georgian official said Russia had met a deadline for a partial pullout a month after the war between the two former Soviet republics.

Russian soldiers and armored vehicles rolled out of six checkpoints and temporary bases in the Black Sea port of Poti and other areas nearby, Georgian Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said.

“They have fulfilled the commitment” to withdraw from the area by Sept. 15 under an agreement European Union leaders reached with Russia last week, Mr. Lomaia told the Associated Press.

But he stressed that Georgia - like the West - still demands a full Russian withdrawal to preconflict positions, in accordance with a cease-fire deal brokered by the European Union a month ago.

Adding to the tension, Georgian authorities said a Georgian policeman at a post near Abkhazia was killed Saturday by gunfire that came from the direction of a position where Abkhazian and Russian forces have been based.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko confirmed the pullback in western Georgia.

“Right now, the withdrawal of our peacekeeping forces is happening from these posts,” Mr. Nesterenko said in televised comments.

Mr. Lomaia said about 1,200 Russian servicemen still remain at 19 checkpoints and other positions, 12 outside South Ossetia and seven outside Abkhazia. Russia said it would pull them out by Oct. 11 as long as 200 EU observers are deployed to strips of territory surrounding the two separatist regions by Oct. 1.

Russia is pushing to keep Western monitors outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, saying the EU observers’ job is to protect the regions against Georgian aggression. The United States and European Union, however, want to ensure security amid high ethnic tensions after the war.

The presence of Russian troops deep in undisputed Georgian territory more than a month after the fighting ended has deeply angered Georgians and been an enormous sore point between Russia and the West.

Russia’s military campaign in Georgia and its subsequent recognition of Georgia’s separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent nations has plunged its relations with the United States and Europe into their worst crisis since the Cold War.

An Associated Press television crew saw Russian soldiers pack military trucks before dawn Saturday with blankets and other supplies at a post by a road leading to Abkhazia province. Among the items taken down was the Russian tricolor flag.

Four trucks stood packed and ready to leave the post in the village of Pirveli Maisi, along with an armored personnel carrier. A Russian column about the same size rolled past on a road leading to Abkhazia.

Russian forces left the two posts that they had maintained for weeks on the outskirts of Poti, one by a bridge on a main road leading into the city and one a few miles from Georgia’s main port and devastated naval base, Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili said.

“Russian forces have withdrawn completely from Poti,” he said.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide