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Bush: Russia Committed To Vacate Georgian Bases

Bush with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili Tbilisi, 10 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President George W. Bush, speaking today in the Georgian capital, has said he has received assurances from Russia that it will close its two remaining bases in Georgia.

Bush said Russian President Vladimir Putin told him earlier this week that Moscow is committed to reduce its military presence in the Caucasus in conformity with an agreement reached nearly six years ago at a summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"He reminded me that there is an agreement in place, the 1999 [Istanbul] agreement. He said that the Russians want to work with the [Georgian] government to fulfill their obligations in terms of that agreement," Bush said. "I think that's a commitment, that's an important commitment for the people of Georgia to hear, and it shows there is grounds to work to get this issue resolved."

Russia maintains two former Soviet military bases in Georgia, one in the autonomous republic of Adjara, and one in the predominantly ethnic Armenian region of Samtskhe-Javakheti.

Georgia last month said Russia had agreed to close its bases by 1 January 2008. But Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov later said Moscow would need at least four years to complete the withdrawal.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has cited the base dispute to justify his decision to boycott the Moscow ceremonies that marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.


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