Georgia to rebuild its army

Troops to leave by Friday, Russian general says

August 22, 2008|By New York Times News Service

TBILISI, Georgia - A day before Russian forces were to pull back from positions inside Georgia under a self-declared deadline, Georgia's president said yesterday that he saw "very little if any movement" of troops from occupied areas.

Speaking beside a visiting American general in Tbilisi to show support for the Georgian government and coordinate humanitarian aid, Mikheil Saakashvili said in some cases, Russian forces had advanced farther into Georgia yesterday and had "been taking over additional sites in my country."

After Saakashvili met with Gen. John Craddock, the commander of U.S. troops in Europe, the Georgian president said he was intent on rebuilding his army with U.S. assistance.

"We need to make them stronger," he said of his forces. "We need to have this country defended. And we need new people trained. We need new equipment. And we will work very closely with U.S. to get all of this."

Any renewed American military aid to the Georgians would surely anger the Russians. The U.S. has trained Georgian troops for tours in Iraq and under a NATO partnership program.

Craddock was noncommittal on Saakashvili's comments. He said he was in Tbilisi to help coordinate humanitarian aid and to meet with Georgia's minister of defense, without elaborating.

In Moscow, a top Russian general, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy head of the general staff, said Russian troops will be withdrawn to a defined security zone around the separatist conflicts by the end of the day today, in accordance with a pledge offered by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev earlier this week.

"We talked about this date a week ago, and Russia sticks to its commitments in terms of deadlines," he said at a press briefing.

Nogovitsyn also took an apparent swipe at U.S. military support for the Georgian army, brushing aside a question of what the Russians would do with several captured Humvees with U.S. Marine Corps markings. The vehicles had been in Georgia for a military exercise this summer, and were at the Poti port awaiting shipment to the United States when the war broke out.

"We have taken all this equipment to a certain place and are guarding it," he said. "I don't know what the fate of these Hummers will be. We don't have time to think of such little details."

He said some captured equipment might be "recycled" and added: "We'll think what to do with it. It's not our priority right now to give back vehicles to the U.S."

In another sign of the hardening positions on both sides, Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, offered some of the strongest indications to date his country may recognize the independence of the separatist enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Lavrov said the regions had renewed requests for recognition, blamed Georgia for the war and said that "Saakashvili bears responsibility for how the situation will develop in the future."

Recognition was also the theme of a speech by the rebel president, Eduard Kokoity, at a rally of about 1,500 people in Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Kokoity said he expected Russian recognition soon, and would then hold a referendum on joining Russia.

"I offer my enormous thanks to the Russian Federation and the Russian people and the Russian soldiers, who we have to thank for our freedom," he said.

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