Gori at the heart of tensions between Georgia and Russia
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Georgia, which had announced that Russian troops were withdrawing from the town of Gori, said that Russia had "changed its mind." US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed for France, en route to Tbilisi.
Analysis: Are we all Georgians?
A promised Russian troop pullout from the Georgian city of Gori Thursday hit major stumbling blocks as a senior Russian defense official refused to set a withdrawal date from the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
Russian troops began pulling out early on Thursday, but then returned to the city despite an agreement reached late on Wednesday to hand over control to Georgian police.
Reporting from the road linking Gori to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, FRANCE 24’s Robert Parsons said the pullout “is just not happening”.
Russian tanks were blocking the way to Gori, according to Parsons. “They’re not letting anyone in, neither journalists nor Georgian police,” he said.
The delay came as the deputy head of Russia's General Staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, refused to be pinned down on a withdrawal date from South Ossetia. “I am not yet ready to say the withdrawal date because the plan is not ready,” said Nogovitsyn in a televised press conference on Thursday.
The conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted last week after Georgia attacked the Russian-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia, prompting Russian retaliation.
Rice meets Sarkozy in France, continues on to Tbilisi
Nearly a week after the eruption of hostilities, the diplomatic effort to secure the region continued, with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday en route to the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
France holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and Sarkozy played a major role in securing a ceasefire between Russia and Georgia earlier this week.
Russia has maintained that it was conducting its troop withdrawal in keeping with the ceasefire terms.
But at a press conference in Washington Thursday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that if Russia did not tone down its aggressive moves, Russian-US ties "could be adversely affected for years to come.”
Medvedev meets South Ossetian and Abkhaz leaders
Two days after Russia and Georgia agreed to the French-brokered truce deal, the situation on the ground was tense with Georgian officials accusing Russian troops of reoccupying the strategic Black Sea port city of Poti.
Responding to questions on the situation in Poti, Nogovitsyn said the presence of Russian peacekeepers in the city was “legitimate for intelligence information.”
According to Georgian officials, Russian troops in Gori were destroying munitions in city, which served as a launchpad for the Georgian military incursion into South Ossetia last week.
Amid signs that the international community may have to confront the thorny issue of Georgia’s post-conflict borders, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met with leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Moscow on Thursday.
At the meeting, Medvedev told the South Ossetian and Abkhaz leaders that Moscow would “support any decision taken by the people of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”
“This is exactly the opposite of what Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was aiming for,” said Romain Goguelin, FRANCE 24’s Moscow correspondent. “For the very first time, Moscow officially talked about the possibility of supporting their independence.”
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