Accessibility links

Russia Digs In As Georgians, Others Dismiss Compliance Claim

  • RFE/RL

A Georgian woman weeps near her destroyed building in Gori on August 23.

Moscow has withdrawn its tanks, artillery, and troops from positions deep within Georgia, but Russian forces continue to hold the western port of Poti as well as checkpoints near the strategic town of Gori, in central Georgia.

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian General Staff, has announced that Russian forces will maintain control of Poti.

Up to 1,000 Georgians have been protesting angrily against the presence of about 20 Russian soldiers at a post just outside Poti, insisting they have no right to stay there.

"A large part of the Russian forces have left. They have withdrawn from the base in Senaki and some have left Poti, but they have set up what they call two peacekeeping checkpoints in the city," Poti Mayor Vano Saginadze told reporters a short distance from one Russian position. "One you can see behind me, near the bridge. The second one is in the city in the Nabada district, where we have a free industrial economic zone."

The Russians' control of Poti also sets up a potential confrontation with the United States, which has dispatched a Navy ship to Georgia to deliver humanitarian goods.

Nogovitsyn also repeated Moscow's claim that its current positions put it in accordance with the six principles of the French-brokered cease-fire plan. Russia has said its forces will remain in vaguely defined buffer zones around South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Challenging Moscow's Line

Georgian, U.S., and European leaders have contradicted Moscow's assertion, saying Russia is not in compliance with the terms of the agreement.

Georgians protest at Russian positions near Poti on August 23.
Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili said Russian forces have retreated from the central Georgian town of Gori but continue to control access to the important Black Sea port of Poti and other cities in western Georgia and Abkhazia.

Georgian troops are reportedly back in control of the country's main east-west highway, where Russians had established a number of checkpoints.

Speaking at a meeting of the country's national security council overnight, Saakashvili warned that the road to his country's complete liberation from Russian forces would not be an easy one. He said "the road to the final liberation of Georgia will be very difficult and filled with obstacles," and he called for international peacekeepers to be sent to the region.

"It is absolutely clear that until the occupational forces are replaced by a contingent of international observers, it will be impossible to think about Georgia's complete freedom and impossible to speak about the resolution of the conflict and the liberation of the entire territory of Georgia," Saakashvili said.

Separatist leaders in South Ossetia and Abkhazia are opposed to an international peacekeeping force, currently being discussed by the European Union.

Human Crisis Continues

As the country awaits the next move from Russia, Georgia's parliament has voted to extend until September 8 a two-week state of emergency declared in the early days of the conflict.

"The state of emergency has been prolonged until September 8 because Russia has not fulfilled all six points of the cease-fire agreement which was brokered by France and the European Union," Georgian Justice Minister Nika Gvaramia said in Tbilisi.

The leader of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, has also sent mixed signals on whether ethnic Georgians will be welcomed back to that Georgian breakaway region in the wake of the conflict.

Kokoity had told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres, on August 22 that all refugees could return to the region safely regardless of ethnicity.

Guterres was wrapping up the first visit to South Ossetia by a top UN official since the conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted earlier this month.

However, in an interview with the AP news agency, Kokoity suggested ethnic Georgians would not be allowed to return as payback for the ethnic Ossetians who could not return to Georgia after a previous conflict.

The UNHCR says the conflict has displaced 150,000 people in Georgia, including South Ossetia.

Vladimer Vardzelashvili, governor of Georgia's Gori regional administration, said his efforts are now focused on getting displaced residents back home.

"Our main task now is to get those villagers who were under our jurisdiction before back to their villages," Vardzelashvili said, according to RFE/RL's Georgian Service. "We need to get the people back and rebuild everything [the Russian forces] destroyed."

Western Warning

Locals in the Georgian town of Zugdidi watch Russians pull back on August 22.
Russia announced after a limited pullback on August 22, two weeks after its troops moved into Georgia for what it described as a "peace-enforcement" operation, that its forces will remain in buffer zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The White House reported that U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed late on August 22 that Russia had so far failed to meet its obligations under the cease-fire deal. A Bush spokesman went on to demand that Russia withdraw forces immediately to bring it into compliance.

A subsequent statement from Sarkozy's office said both presidents "noted that Russian forces had begun a process of withdrawal and that this should continue and finish in accordance with commitments made by the Russian side."

"I think what Russia has done now is the strongest catalyst it could have created to get Georgia in NATO," Reuters has quoted U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, who is an envoy to the Caucasus, as telling Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio. "This is what is going to happen now: Georgia is going to accelerate its march toward NATO and, I hope, to an action plan in December."

The alliance is expected to pursue a decision in December as to whether to grant Georgia a road map to entrance, known as a Membership Action Plan (MAP).

At its recent summit in Bucharest, NATO assured Georgia that it would be admitted to the alliance at some point. But resistance from some European member states has prevented NATO from specifying a timeframe.

with additional wire reporting
XS
SM
MD
LG