I went with a friend from Rustavi 2 television to tour the three Russian checkpoints around Poti this morning.
At all three, the Russians have already removed the razor wire and they're loading their Ural trucks with equipment and supplies. Some people who know more about military affairs than I do suggest that they're loading equipment and arms that they took from Georgian military bases. I would stress that's just speculation at this point.
At Nabada, near the sea, where two of the checkpoints lie just a few hundred meters apart, those Ural trucks are being loaded with timber of some sort. (Note that the UN -- or "UN-style" -- flag is clearly visible above the encampment, part of Moscow's continuing effort to portray their invasion troops as "peacekeepers.")
I don't see any reduction in troop numbers at Nabada, either. But at the Seventh Kilometer checkpoint, there are very obviously fewer troops than in previous days.
There are still tents at all the checkpoints, too -- they haven't been dismantled. And I also saw lots of places still reinforced with sandbag piles.
Mayor Vano Saghinadze seems satisfied at the recent developments, and he says he has no doubt that these steps toward withdrawal are irreversible. He stresses that Poti's police are doing everything they can to avoid hindering the apparent pullout operations.
Police patrols are passing frequently on the roads outside the checkpoints -- in particular at the bridge over the Rioni River.
They're trying to ensure that the Russians don't wire the bridge with explosives. (Ed's note: Retreating Russian forces in the area around Gori, in central Georgia, planted or otherwise left explosive devices behind that resulted in at least two civilian deaths.)
The excavators finally stopped digging yesterday afternoon. It might be that they simply don't need to dig any more trenches; but another explanation might be that it's been raining steadily here in Poti and, given Poti's famously soft soil, the wet earth simply spills back into whatever's excavated.
It has rained a lot here lately -- heavily this morning -- but the weather has since let up.
Mayor Saghinadze told me that as soon as the troops are gone completely, they'll have to inspect the entire area that the Russian forces have occupied -- to ensure that they're not mined or otherwise rigged with "surprises."
We saw a crew of foreign journalists trying to get closer to the Russian encampment -- they were immediately kicked out by the Russians. I couldn't hear what was said exactly.
Unfortunately my own camera's zoom wasn't strong enough to get good shots of this checkpoint, at Nabada. But my Rustavi 2 colleagues were able to zoom in on the Russian checkpoints with their television cameras, so all these pictures are grabs from their video images.
Here, too, the blue "peacekeeper" flag flies above the Russian tent, consistent with Moscow's assertion all along that its troops are in Georgia to "enforce" peace.
You can see in this next photo how well the Russians have taken advantage of the soft soil to make themselves at home outside Poti. Again, the splash of blue paint near the top of the vehicle is supposed to signal that it's part of a "peacekeeping" operation.