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Russia says troop withdrawal has begun

©

Latest update : 2008-08-19

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said Russian military started withdrawing its soldiers on Monday, but FRANCE 24's Robert Parsons in Tbilisi reports that Russian troops are digging in further into Georgian territory.

Watch a FRANCE 24 exclusive: South Ossetian refugees return to battered Tskhinvali

 

 

Neither Georgian authorities nor foreign journalists reporting from Georgia have recorded any sign that Russian troops were effectively pulling out of the country on Monday, despite Russia’s assurance that it had begun moving out its soldiers.

“They’re going nowhere,” says Robert Parsons, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Tbilisi. “I’ve heard that they withdrew from Poti – a Georgian port on the Black Sea – but they’ve withdrawn from Poti five times already and gone back five times. So the simple fact that they moved down the road means absolutely nothing.”

Parsons said that Russian troops were still stationed in the areas of Gori and Kaspi, northwest of Tbilisi. “I asked Russian soldiers, and they told me that they had no instructions to go anywhere,” he added.


There is a distinction between pullout and withdrawal

In a briefing on Russian operations in Georgia, Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of Russia's General Staff, claimed that the pullout of Russian “peacekeeping forces” had started Monday.

But he drew the line between “the notion of withdrawal and that of pullout. We are not talking about withdrawal here,” Nogovitsyn said.

There were persistent signs Monday that the Russian grip on Georgia was still tight.

Two Russian tanks were filmed by Georgian television ploughing through a barrage of Georgian police cars at a checkpoint about 30 kilometres from the capital Tbilisi, breaking the conditions of the six-point peace agreement signed by the Moscow Saturday.

“It sounds as if the Russians were deliberately trying to escalate the tensions,” Parsons said.

American defence officials said Monday that Russia had moved short-range SS-21 missiles into South Ossetia that should be capable of targeting the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The United States and Georgia both accused Moscow of consolidating their positions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and of bringing in more troops and equipment.


NATO holds emergency meeting Tuesday

Meanwhile the international community is keeping up the pressure on Russia. The US called for an emergency meeting of NATO foreign ministers Tuesday to review ties with Moscow.
 
The ministers are also expected to reaffirm NATO’s commitment to study Georgian membership, as pledged at an April summit in Bucharest, and to approve a package of measures to support Georgia.

The Russian envoy to NATO warned that if NATO’s decision was not “in line with the reality”, Russia would not be able to maintain the quality of its cooperation with NATO the way it had so far. “We hope it will be balanced,” Dmitry Rogozin added.

Date created : 2008-08-19

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