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Midnight train from Georgia sees Russia complete military pullout

RIA Novosti

15/11/2007 11:11 MOSCOW, November 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia has completed a pullout of military personnel and equipment from a Soviet-era base in Batumi, Georgia, an aide to the chief of the Russian Ground Forces said on Thursday.

The last train containing Russian servicemen and property left the base in southern Georgia for Armenia, at 01:10 a.m. local time on Thursday (09:10 p.m. GMT on Wednesday).

"The train is en route to the 102nd military base in the town of Gyumri in Armenia," Col. Igor Konashenkov said, adding that it would reach its destination by Thursday night.

The Batumi base commander, the commander of Russia's contingent in the South Caucasus, as well as 150 servicemen and their families are on the train, which is also carrying some 200 metric tons of equipment.

The Batumi pullout means that no Russian troops remain in Georgia except for peacekeepers in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, said General of the Army Alexei Maslov, the Ground Forces commander.

Under an agreement between the former Soviet republics, Russia was to complete the closure of its base in Batumi by the end of 2008.

Last December, Russia completed the pullout of its military garrison from Tbilisi, handing over control of its headquarters to Georgia's Defense Ministry, and formally handed over its military base at Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia to Tbilisi in June, ahead of the October 2007 deadline.

The tiny Caucasus nation has sought to join NATO and other European organizations since U.S.-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power on the back of street protests in 2003.

However, similar opposition demonstrations against Saakashvili last week led to the announcement of early presidential elections, set for January 5. Saakashvili has blamed Russia for tension in the country, expelling three Russian diplomats on November 8.

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