Russia agrees to close 2 bases in Georgia

April 27, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - Russia has agreed in principle to close its two military bases in Georgia by 2008, potentially forfeiting one of the key remnants of its Soviet-era influence in the southern Caucasus, Georgian officials said yesterday.

Concluding talks with her Russian counterpart, Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili said Russia has tentatively endorsed a plan to begin withdrawing 7,000 troops and military hardware from the former Soviet military outposts almost immediately after a final agreement is signed.

The agreement, which cannot be assured until a timetable is negotiated and signed by the nations' presidents, would eliminate one of Moscow's historic geopolitical footholds in a region that it no longer directly controls.

Stung by the wholesale withdrawal of troops from Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow stubbornly has maintained the two bases, even as Georgia demanded their closure, set its sights on joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and developed closer military ties with the United States.

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