Russians to stay in Georgia

Despite announced pullout, official says hundreds of troops to guard checkpoints

August 21, 2008|By Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW - Russia plans to establish a long-term presence inside Georgia and one of its breakaway republics by adding 18 checkpoints, including at least eight within undisputed Georgian territory outside the pro-Russian enclave of South Ossetia, a ranking Russian military official told reporters yesterday.

The checkpoints will be staffed by hundreds of Russian troops, the official said, with those in Georgia proper having supplies ferried to them from breakaway South Ossetia.

If implemented, the plan would effectively put under Russian control the border between Georgia and the South Ossetia region, which is seeking independence, as well as a small chunk of Georgia proper.

"This is the essence of it," Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the army general staff, told reporters at a briefing.

He showed maps detailing the proposed Russian positions, one just outside the Georgian city of Gori, which lies along a crucial juncture of the country's main east-west highway.

"The president ordered us to stop where we were," he said. "We are not pulling out and pulling back troops behind this administrative border into the territory of South Ossetia."

The plans appear to violate the terms of a French-endorsed cease-fire deal signed late last week by the presidents of Georgia and Russia.

It called for both countries' troops and allied armed groups to move back to the positions they held before hostilities led to a Russian military incursion early this month.

Russian officials insist that the deal allows them to keep troops along the South Ossetian-Georgian border as well as within Georgia proper as part of a peacekeeping mission begun in the 1990s.

The Russians say that their peacekeeping mandate gives them access to a "security zone" along the border.

Officials in Georgia, the United States and Europe have demanded that Russia pull its troops back to positions held before the fighting broke out Aug. 7.

President Bush reiterated that message yesterday during a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Orlando, Fla.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that, by midafternoon yesterday, U.S. officials had seen no signs of a Russian retreat from Georgia.

Another U.S. official said there were some movements that suggested some military units might be pulling back.

In Moscow, Nogovitsyn said time would tell when Russians would pull troops out of areas they now control in Georgia proper, including the key city of Gori.

He called the proposed new Russian checkpoints "observation posts."

Georgian officials voiced outrage over the continued Russian presence.

"Over the last seven days they've promised three times to leave, but they've yet to fulfill their promises," said Alexander Lomaie, Georgia's national security adviser.

"We're here, and we haven't seen any sign of them pulling out," he said. "There is the same number of checkpoints and the same severe rules for entering and exiting."

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