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Defense Minister Says Russia Will Not Hurry Withdrawal From Georgia

Moscow, 14 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov today said Russia will not hurry to pull its forces out of Georgia.

Ivanov said Russia's eventual closure of its two remaining bases in Georgia will not resemble the rapid military withdrawal from East Germany in the early 1990s, carried out without adequate preparation for returning troops.

"Naturally, this issue has to be solved only through diplomacy. In addition, everyone is well aware -- and I stressed that point once again -- that anything similar to what happened in Germany [the withdrawal of Russian troops from Germany in the early 1990s], when we threw out our soldiers, officers, and weapons into empty fields and called that a withdrawal, is ruled out. That will not happen again."

Georgia has been pressing Russia to complete its pullout in line with a 1999 agreement. But Ivanov today repeated warnings that the operation will be a "lengthy process," expected by some officials to take 11 years. He said a special treaty between Russia and Georgia is needed before funds for the withdrawal can be allocated.

The United States yesterday offered to help Russia pay for the closure of its bases in Georgia, but did not give details of its offer.