- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands — Russia yesterday refused to withdraw its remaining forces and military equipment from the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova, repudiating a 4-year-old pledge to do so by the end of this year.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, attending the annual ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), expressed “regret” that the 55-member group had failed to reach consensus on the issue because of Moscow’s objection.

“I had hoped today to welcome Russia’s fulfillment of its 1999 Istanbul commitments to completely withdraw its forces from Moldova. It appears that Russia will not meet the already-extended Dec. 31 deadline,” Mr. Powell said.

Moscow’s promise originally was made at the 1999 OSCE meeting in the Turkish city. The deadline subsequently was extended by one year.

“I also urge Russia and Georgia to resolve the remaining issues relating to the Russian military presence in Georgia,” Mr. Powell said.

“I call once again for the earliest possible fulfillment of the Istanbul commitments on Moldova and Georgia. And I must express my regret that it is not possible to reach consensus on ministerial statements addressing these important issues.”

The OSCE works only by consensus.

In language rarely heard from the Bush administration since Russia became a partner in the fight against terrorism after September 11, 2001, Mr. Powell also criticized Moscow for human rights violations in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

“Credible reports of abuses by government, as well as rebel forces, in Chechnya remind us that Russia must ensure respect for human rights even as it combats terrorism and upholds its territorial integrity,” the secretary said.

Mr. Powell also warned Moscow against supporting separatists in Georgia, where massive street protests and external pressure last month forced President Eduard Shevardnadze out of office. New presidential elections have been set for Jan. 4.

“The international community should do everything possible to support Georgia’s territorial integrity throughout and beyond the election process,” he said. “No support should be given to breakaway elements seeking to weaken Georgia’s territorial integrity.”

The interim Georgian government was angered last week when Russian officials met at the Kremlin with leaders from South Ossetia and Abkhazia — two regions that broke free of Georgian control more than a decade ago and want to join Russia — and from Adzhara, which never has backed secession but is hostile to the new rulers in Tbilisi.

Mr. Powell, asked whether Washington’s recent spats with Moscow are a signal of a crisis in their mostly good relations in the past two years, told reporters on his plane that he and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov “never had a bad word over” Georgia.

“But let me put it this way: These have been very serious consultations,” he said, acknowledging the difficulty of his latest dealings with the Russians.

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