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Medvedev Sets Date For Russian Withdrawal

August 17, 2008

President Dmitry Medvedev said Russian regular forces will begin withdrawing from Georgia beginning on August 18.

The pledge came after Moscow followed Tbilisi in signing a cease-fire agreement that calls on Russian forces to withdraw to positions they held before fighting broke out earlier this month.

The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the EU-backed cease-fire, says Medvedev made the pledge in a telephone conversation on August 17. The office says Sarkozy warned his Russian counterpart of "serious consequences" for Moscow's relations with the European Union if Russia does not comply with its cease-fire deal with Georgia.

Meanwhile German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Moscow to step up its withdrawal, calling it an issue of "credibility."

She was speaking today at a joint news conference with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi.

Saakashvili said Georgia will not give up South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia. He also said Tbilisi wants the withdrawal of Russian troops to be monitored by international organizations.

"We need immediate withdrawal, we need verification of withdrawal and cease-fire, preferably by UN and OSCE monitors, we need humanitarian aid reaching everybody, and then in the end we need peacekeepers taking over conflict areas and doing genuine conflict resolution in the interest of all ethnic groups," Saakashvili said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on August 16 that there was no timetable for any troop withdrawal. Speaking in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, he said progress would depend on extra security measures being implemented.

"We are constantly running into problems created by the Georgian side," Lavrov said. "And so everything will depend on how effectively and how quickly these problems are resolved."

Sarkozy has acknowledged that the cease-fire permits Russian troops to patrol "a few kilometers" beyond the conflict zone in South Ossetia, but says that any additional Russian security measures would "in no way limit or put in danger" the freedom of movement along Georgia's road and rail network.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Georgia today to reiterate Western calls for Moscow to respect the cease-fire agreement.

U.S. President George W. Bush, meanwhile, says Moscow's signing of the truce was "hopeful," but that there can be no question that South Ossetia and Abkhazia will remain within Georgia's borders.

"The international community is clear that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia and the United States fully recognizes this reality and will continue to stand behind Georgia's democracy and will continue to insist that Georgia's sovereignty and independence and territorial integrity be respected," Bush said from his home in Crawford, Texas.

Meanwhile, Russia confirmed that its troops are in control of an hydroelectric power plant near the border of Abkhazia.

Earlier Georgia's Foreign Ministry accused Russian army units and Abkhaz separatist fighters of taking over the power plant as well as 13 villages, shifting the border of the breakaway region toward the Inguri River. AP reports that the villages and plant are in a UN-established buffer zone on Abkhazia's edge. The plant is a major power provider for Georgia and Abkhazia.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said today Russia is showing signs of returning to its authoritarian past.

Speaking on U.S. television, Gates said Russia's invasion of Georgia will require the United States to re-evaluate the strategic relationship with Moscow. He said there is a concern that Russia has turned a corner with its action in Georgia.

compiled with wire reports

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/Conflicting_Reports_On_Russian_Troop_Movements_In_Georgia_South_Ossetia/1191648.html

Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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