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Russia completed troop withdrawal from Georgia a year early

RIA Novosti

21/11/2007 17:30 MOSCOW, November 21 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Russia had completed the withdrawal of its troops from Georgia almost a year early than the agreed deadline, despite Tbilisi's unfriendly foreign policy.

The ministry said Georgia insisted on the soonest withdrawal of Russian military bases, citing the so called Istanbul commitments, a set of declarations signed along with the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty in 1999, which appear in a Russian-Georgian statement dated November 17, 1999.

An agreement on the withdrawal of two Russian bases - the 12th in Batumi and 62nd in Akhalkalaki - was signed in March 2006. The Akhalkalaki base was to be fully handed over by October 1, 2007 and the Batumi base by the end of 2008.

The Akhalkalaki base was handed over to Georgia before the October deadline - in late June, and the last train with equipment from the Batumi base left Georgia November 15. Russia accelerated the withdrawal following escalated tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Georgia and Russia have been negotiating the withdrawal since 2001, with Moscow initially pressing for a 14-year deadline, which was then cut to eight years, while Tbilisi insisted on 3-4 years, which was then reduced to 2-3 years.

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 recently led to the announcement of early presidential elections, set for January 5. Saakashvili has blamed Russia for the rising tension in the country, expelling three Russian diplomats on November 8.


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