Tbilisi Cautiously Optimistic, as Talks over Bases Continue

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on May 17 that the problem regarding the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia is “already decided” and there is no need to make “loud statements,” hence signaling necessity of ending war of words, which has recently sparked between the Russian and Georgian officials.

Experts from the two countries are expected to meet in Tbilisi next week in an attempt to reach an agreement on details of pull out process.

Saakashvili said at a news conference in Warsaw that progress has been made in the talks and a “civilized way” for the bases’ withdrawal has been found. But he also expressed caution and said that he will “believe” in this progress only after he “see[s] a finalized document” signed by the Georgian and Russian Presidents.

He also said that this withdrawal of Russian bases from Batumi and Akhalkalaki is an “irreversible” process; adding that the issue of military bases should not become “an apple of discord” between Russia and Georgia.

Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, who was accompanying President Saakashvili at the Warsaw Council of Europe Summit, told reporters on May 17 that talks between Russia and Georgia exerts will be held in Tbilisi on May 23.

She said that Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze and Russian Foreign Ministry’s special envoy Igor Savolsky will chair the their respective sides at the talks.

This recent statement of President Saakashvili follows a new proposal of the Russian side over the withdrawal process, which was submitted to Tbilisi last week. This new proposal was hailed by officials in Tbilisi as “more acceptable” but officials also note that some disagreements still persists.

Neither President Saakashvili, nor Foreign Minister Zourabichvili elaborated about this new proposal. However, a day before Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson spoke about some of the details.

Nino Burjanadze said at a news conference on May 16 that according to the recent proposal of Moscow, the Russian side has agreed to close down its bases in Georgia by 2008.

“We insisted that the Russian bases be closed down by January 1, 2008; [in new proposals] the Russian side is offering February [2008] as a deadline, and this term is not a matter for dispute,” Nino Burjanadze said.

The Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson also said that Tbilisi rejected a proposal by Moscow to transform the military bases into anti-terrorist centers, as this was just an attempt by Russia to simply rename these military base ‘anti-terrorist centers.’
“We demand the closure of the Russian military bases and only afterwards can we talk about setting up joint anti-terrorist centers, [these] will be important not only for the Russian-Georgian relationship, but for the entire region as well,” she said.
She noted that the Parliament’s resolution on the Russian military bases is already being enforced, meaning that the Georgian Foreign Ministry will not issue new visas for the Russian servicemen. She said that this is a “liberal” measure, but warned “if the sides fail to reach a final agreement, the regime [measures against bases] will become stricter.”

The press office of the Georgian Foreign Ministry confirmed on May 17 that no visas will be issued to Russian servicemen starting from May 15; however no request for entry visas by the Russian side has been submitted to the Foreign Ministry either.

Nino Burjanadze also said that there are some issues in the proposal, which remain disputable. But she refrained from specifying these parts of the proposal.

Rustavi 2 television reported on May 15 unofficial information which says that a disagreement persists over the timeframe of withdrawal of military base from Akhalkalaki. According to this report, the Russian side pledges it will close down its base in Akhalkalaki sometime in 2006, without specifying exact date; while the Georgian side set March 1, 2006 as a deadline for the closure of this base.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met with his Georgian counterpart in Warsaw on May 16 on a sideline of Council of Europe Summit, reiterated that “the issue of the Russian bases’ withdrawal is, principally, decided by the supreme leadership of Russia.”

“Now it is required from the professionals [experts from Russian and Georgian sides] to agree how to carry out this withdrawal. We would have agreed a long time ago if we had talked professionally. Using this process of negotiations for political games only hinders this process and makes it difficult,” Sergey Lavrov said.


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