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Russians Loading Equipment From Georgian Base

12 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Army officials say the military pullout from Georgia's Black Sea port of Batumi has started.

Two Russian transport vessels have been anchored off Batumi for the past two days, with a view to removing some 25 tanks and armored vehicles from the Gonio firing range. The loading should have started on 11 August, but gale-force winds forced Russian authorities to delay the operation.

Talking to reporters in Batumi today, the deputy commander of the Russian armed forces in the Transcaucasus region, Colonel Vladimir Kuparadze, said he hoped all the equipment would be loaded by the end of the day.

"The loading has started," Kuparadze said. "There remain just a few formalities on the part of the [Georgian] border guards. If everything is OK, if the weather is good and if there are no technical problems, we hope to finish loading by the end of the day."

Moscow this year agreed to vacate the two former Soviet military bases it has been maintaining in Batumi and Akhalkalaki, in southern Georgia, by the end of 2008.