- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008

MOSCOW | Russian President Dmitry Medvedev pledged Monday to withdraw Russian troops from key areas of Georgia after 200 European Union monitors are deployed later this month.

However, the Russian agreement to pull out all the troops occupying regions surrounding the disputed territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia hinged on Georgia’s acceptance of a reworked cease-fire deal.

Mr. Medvedev, speaking after meeting with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, also said that Georgia’s leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, had received “a blessing, either in the form of a direct order or silent approval” from the United States to launch an “idiotic action” against South Ossetia.

Russian tanks and troops entered South Ossetia after Georgian forces began an offensive to gain control of the pro-Russian territory, which has had de facto independence for more than 15 years. The Russians quickly repelled the soldiers and drove farther into Georgia.

Nearly a month after the five-day war, Russian troops remain entrenched deep inside Georgian territory. Georgia and the West have accused Russia of failing to honor its pledge to withdraw its troops to positions held before the fighting broke out Aug. 7.

Russia says its troops in Georgia are peacekeepers and that they are allowed under the accord to help maintain security around Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moscow has recognized the two regions as independent states, a move denounced in Georgia and abroad. Nicaragua is the only other country to have recognized the two regions.

Mr. Medvedev insisted that Russia is complying with terms of the cease-fire that Mr. Sarkozy negotiated last month. He said Russian troops would pull out of the Black Sea port of Poti and nearby areas in the next seven days, but only if Georgia signed a pledge to not use force against Abkhazia.

International talks on the conflict in Georgia are planned beginning Oct. 15 in Geneva.

Mr. Sarkozy was slated to fly to the Georgian capital later Monday to meet with Mr. Saakashvili and present the update to the cease-fire plan.

Earlier Monday, Russian soldiers prevented international aid convoys from visiting Georgian villages in a tense zone around the breakaway province of South Ossetia.

On Friday, Russian forces barred the ambassadors of Sweden, Latvia and Estonia from villages beyond Russian checkpoints where they wanted to deliver aid, the ambassadors said in a statement.

Also Monday, Georgia accused Russia of a “campaign of harassment and persecution” in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and urged the World Court to intervene to halt killings and forced expulsions.

Russia also accuses Georgia of crimes against humanity, for launching a massive attack last month on South Ossetia, killing Russian peacekeepers and dozens of civilians.

The court will likely take years to deal with Georgia’s case.

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