Scant sign of Russian withdrawal

Russia pledges to pull out as Germany’s backing for Georgia’s Nato membership irks Moscow.

There was no evidence of even preparations for a Russian withdrawal on Sunday [EPA]
There was no evidence of even preparations for a Russian withdrawal on Sunday [EPA]

Russia plans to deploy a peacekeeping force of unspecified size that Georgian officials worry could turn into an open-ended occupation.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, said “there is no such notion anymore in Georgia as Russian peacekeepers”.

“There can be no Russian peacekeepers, these are just Russian forces.”

German support

Saakashvili was speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, at which Merkel gave support to Georgia’s bid to join Nato, an ambition that is strongly opposed by Russia.



Key locations in the conflict

“Georgia will become a member of Nato if it wants to – and it does want to,” Merkel said.

Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker, reporting from Moscow, said Russia had for many years believed that it would be impossible for Georgia to become a full member of Nato as the country had not shown it was suitable or stable enough.

France and Germany had previously vetoed Georgia’s possible membership.

Moscow felt Nato was trying to expand its sphere of influence into post Soviet space, our correspondent said.

Digging in

On the ground, Russian forces continued to man positions along the strategic road from Tbilisi to Gori, including at a checkpoint in Igoeti, only 30km from the capital.

Germany, which previously opposed Georgia joining Nato, now welcomes it [AFP]

A Russian soldier told Al Jazeera that a number of troops were expected to arrive shortly in Gori from the south.

“That may be an indication that some sort of a withdrawal is on the way,” said Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Gori.

“But what we saw on the roads from Tbilisi to Gori this morning were people who were essentially reinforcing their positions.

“They had diggers who were digging holes for tanks to move into so they could be camouflaged from the road.

“We also saw armoured personnel carriers being hidden in trees with their guns sticking out, and soldiers digging trenches in gun positions. This doesn’t look like an army ready to move.”

Russian troops are also controlling the city and air base of Senaki, which sits on a key intersection controlling access to the Black Sea port city of Poti and the road north to Abkhazia.

And Russia confirmed that it had taken over a major power plant in western Georgia on Sunday.

Peace plan

The Georgian president had said earlier in the day that his country would not give up the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers rolled into the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia on August 7 after the government in Tbilisi ordered a bombardment in an attempt to reassert its control.

A French-drafted six-point peace pact requires all forces in Georgia to withdraw to positions held prior to the conflict.

Under the deal, Russian troops, which entered the conflict to support the South Ossetian separatists, have the right to patrol “a few kilometres” deeper inside Georgia beyond the South Ossetia conflict zone, Georgian and French officials said on Saturday.

The French-drafted agreement calls for an end to all military action and free access to humanitarian aid. It also calls for a demilitarised border zone.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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