Russian soldiers have begun patrolling the de-facto borders of Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia, ahead of scheduled NATO military exercises in the area that Moscow views as a challenge to the west.
AFP - Russian guards have taken up positions on the borders of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in line with a pact the separatists sealed with Moscow, Interfax reported on Saturday.
"Subdivisions of Russia's border forces have already entered South Ossetia and gone to the border," the head of border forces for the southern federal region, Nikolai Lisinsky, said.
"The headquarters of the border forces is to be located right in Tskhinvali and the rest along the whole border," he said, referring to the South Ossetian capital at the centre of a brief war last year between Russia and Georgia.
In another separatist region, Abkhazia, the head of the separatists' armed forces, Anatoly Zaitsev, said Russian border guards had been met by local residents bearing flowers as they arrived to begin work.
"Subdivisions of Russia's border forces arrived in the Gali district immediately after the signing in Moscow of the agreement on joint protection of the Abkhaz border," said Zaitsev, referring to the pacts signed on Thursday between Moscow and the leaders of the two separatist regions.
Earlier the West condemned the signing of border defence treaties between Moscow and the leaders of the two regions.
Both the United States and the European Union said the pacts breached a ceasefire accord brokered by the EU last summer.
The signing comes amid a row over NATO's plans to hold military exercises this month in Georgia.
The alliance describes the exercises as a counter-terrorism drill not threatening any state, but Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has slammed them as a "provocation" likely to encourage a reckless Georgian leadership.
On Friday, Georgia's foreign ministry slammed the new border pacts, saying they "represent yet another Russian attempt to strengthen the military build-up on Georgia's occupied territories and legitimize the occupation process."
The signing "grossly violates the fundamental norms and principles of international law," the ministry said in a statement.
Prior to Thursday's pact, Russia had already based thousands of its soldiers in the two separatist regions. Moscow has also agreed on building a naval base on Abkhazia's Black Sea coast.
Under this week's border pacts, effective for 10 years, Russia assumes immediate responsibility for guarding the regions' de facto borders with Georgia, including maritime patrols of Abkhazia's strategic Black Sea coast.
Date created : 2009-05-02