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Russia Tells U.S. it will Keep Troops in S.Ossetia, Abkhazia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the phone on September 11 that only Russian military forces would be deployed inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia and not EU observers.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a press release that during the phone conversation, which was held upon the request of the U.S. side, Lavrov told Rice that EU observers would be deployed “exclusively in the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia with the aim to prevent new aggression by Tbilisi,” as it is envisaged in the additional agreement reached between the Russian and French presidents in Moscow on September 8.

“The European Union will be a guarantor of the non-use of force against Tskhinvali and Sokhumi,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“As for the measures to be implemented inside these states on ensuring their security, they have already been implemented with the deployment there of Russian military contingents under bilateral agreements between Russia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia,” it added.

Lavrov also said that the Russian side would continue its “vigorous efforts” to achieve stability in the region, as envisaged by the Medvedev-Sarkozy agreement.

Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said on September 11 that “in the first stage” EU observers would be deployed in areas adjacent to breakaway South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which are currently occupied by Russian troops. She, however, said that “this is only the beginning” and in the next stage EU observers would also be deployed inside the breakaway regions.

The September 8 agreement between President Medvedev and President Sarkozy specifies the terms of their earlier agreement dated August 12. The September 8 agreement says that the parties reaffirm commitments undertaken in the August 12 accord, which says that Russian forces should “be pulled back to pre-conflict lines.”

Tbilisi and western powers, based on this provision, say that Russia’s decision to keep 3,800 troops in each of the regions – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – is in contradiction to the commitments undertaken by Russia.

Georgian officials say that at the first stage, the goal is to achieve the withdrawal of Russian troops from areas deep inside Georgian territory and to replace them with EU observers. At the next stage, Tbilisi says the goal is  to achieve, through international pressure, Russia’s compliance with its commitment and the withdrawal of remaining additional troops from inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Before hostilities began, according to official Russian information, Moscow had up to 1,000 servicemen in South Ossetia, as peacekeepers, and about 2,500 in Abkhazia.

U.S. Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack said on September 10 that Russia should fully comply with its commitments.

“These guys are trying to – at every turn, trying to wiggle out of a commitment they made and that their president [Dmitry Medvedev] put his name to,” he told journalists. “You know, we’ve seen it since August and it continues. They need to get out of Georgia and they need to stop finding excuses to do that.”


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