Putin Speaks Bittersweetly of Pullout

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on May 23 that military bases in Georgia do not contribute to Russia’s security, but the withdrawal is negative for Russia from the political point of view. Putin’s statement was made amid ongoing talks in Tbilisi over closure of military bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki, which have been hailed by the Georgian side as constructive.

“Is it good, or bad that we are going from there? From the point of view of ensuring our interest in the sphere of security, they [military bases in Georgia] do not represent any interest for us. This is not my opinion. This is the position of the General Staff [of the Russian Armed Forces],” Putin said, while speaking at the meeting with the staff of Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

“Is it good, or bad from the political point of view? I think, it is not very good, because it [withdrawal of troops] speaks about the fact that our neighbors [in Georgia] do not want our military presence there [in Georgia]. And I do not see anything good in this. But it would have been even worse if we tried to prevent realization of their [Georgians] sovereign right at any price,” the Russian President added.

Vladimir Putin also said that Russia is against the deployment of any third country’s forces in Georgia after Russia pulls out its bases.

“I would not like foreign troops from other countries to appear in Georgia after our pullout. This would endanger our safety and our Georgian partners understand this,” RIA Novosti quotes Vladimir Putin as saying.

He also criticized the “tone” which Georgia uses at talks with the Russian side, apparently referring to the Georgian Parliament’s resolution passed in March, which instructs the government to impose restrictions on Russian bases if no progress is made during talks.

“I consider this kind of pressing manner for the holding of talks groundless,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Georgian and Russian sides are holding talks in Tbilisi, which were launched on May 23 and are expected to continue on May 24, in an attempt to finalized details of an agreement over the withdrawal process of the bases.

Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze, who is Georgia’s chief negotiator at the talks, said “serious progress” has been made during the negotiations.

“Some issues of principle importance remain [to be solved] and we will try to move our positions closer about these issues at the talks, which will continue tomorrow [May 24],” Merab Antadze said without elaborating any details.

Before the talks Russian chief negotiator Igor Savolsky said that Moscow is ready to close down the bases “within 2008,” without specifying exact date.

Merab Antadze said after talks that for the Georgian side, the details of the process of withdrawal, “which should take place gradually, stage-by-stage is not of less importance than the final date of closure.”  

The Georgian media was speculating on Monday that an agreement between Russia and Georgia could to be reached at the talks on May 24.


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