Russian troops withdraw from Georgian port region

Russian troops withdrew from the region around Georgia’s Black Sea port of Poti on Saturday, within a September 15 deadline set for the first phase of a pullback brokered by France.

A Reuters reporter saw troops in armoured personnel carriers (APC) and trucks pull out from positions on the outskirts of Poti. The reporter said Russian forces had also left another three positions on the way to nearby Senaki.

Russia sent forces deep into Georgia last month after repelling an attempt by Tbilisi to retake the breakaway, pro-Russian South Ossetia region.

On Monday, Moscow agreed to withdraw its troops from “security zones” inside Georgia around South Ossetia and a second breakaway region, Abkhazia, within a month, but there was no commitment to scale back its military presence in the separatist regions.

The deal, brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on behalf of the European Union, included a commitment to pull out by September 15 from “monitoring posts” in the Poti region, where an oil and dry grain shipment port is considered vital to the Georgian economy.

“They left in APCs and trucks, taking everything with them,” the reporter said. “The positions on the way to Senaki have also gone,” he added later.

Moscow’s intervention in Georgia, an ex-Soviet republic that has angered Moscow by pushing for membership of Nato, drew widespread international condemnation.

Georgia sits at the heart of the volatile Caucasus, home to pipelines carrying oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to world markets that are favoured by the West because they bypass Russia.

International monitors
But Western governments have so far shied away from imposing sanctions on Russia, in part because for many of them Russia is the principal energy supplier.

Russia followed up the pullback deal a day later by saying it would station about 7 600 troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, both of which the Kremlin recognised last month as independent states.

President Dmitry Medvedev said the agreement to withdraw from undisputed Georgian territory was made possible after the European Union offered guarantees that pro-Western Georgia would refrain from any use of force against its separatist regions.

The deal also depends on the deployment of an international monitoring force, including a 200-strong EU unit.
Russia says it will only allow the monitors to operate in the buffer zones, not in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia said it was morally obliged to send in its forces last month to prevent what it called genocide in South Ossetia, after Georgian forces began shelling the capital, Tskhinvali.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says he was responding to separatist shelling of ethnic Georgian villages. But the 40-year-old leader has come under fire this week from political opponents, who say he walked into a war Georgia could not possibly win.—Reuters

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