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Russia Troops Reinforce ‘Buffer Zones’
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 22 Aug.'08 / 13:59

Russian military official:
 Troops in final stage of pull back;
 No plans to speed up pull back;
 Russia not happy with NATO ships in Black Sea.

The general staff of the Russian armed forces said its troops were “in final stage of pull back” from the Georgia proper, but made it clear that the troops would remain in buffer zones both in vicinity of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“The Russian army acts strictly in accordance with the international agreements and we have started the final stage of pull back of the Russian troops to the planned positions,” Anatoly Nogovitsin, deputy chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, said at a news conference in Moscow on August 22. “The Russian Defense Minister [Anatoly Serdyukov] has said that by the end of today the Russian contingent will be pulled back.”

“The pull back of all Russian troops is going according to the plan and we are not going to correct this plan or to increase speed of the pull back,” he added in what appeared to be a response to the U.S. officials’ statements that Russia was very slow in honoring their commitments.

The Russian military official reiterated the earlier announcement that the checkpoints of the Russian troops would be stationed in the south from the South Ossetia on the Georgian proper, as well as across the South Ossetian administrative border.

“The Russian peacekeeping unit is continuing increasing its capabilities to defend the local population. In order to prevent infiltration of group of marauders and armed groups 18 checkpoints have been set up across the border area between South Ossetia and Georgia,” he said.

In particular, there will be two lines of checkpoints in the area - the first line will include eight checkpoints across the line of the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeepers and the second line – involving 10 checkpoints – will be set across the administrative border of South Ossetia. The buffer zone would be areas between these two lines.

The so called “zone of responsibility” of the Russian peacekeepers, according to the agreements signed by the sides years ago, included a total of 140 Ossetian and 130 Georgian villages. The zone even includes some portions of the Georgia’s major east-west highway – in particular at the village of Shavshvebi and Agara.

President Saakashvili told Reuters that the buffer zone was unacceptable. “There will be no buffer zones. We will never live with any buffer zones. We'll never allow anything like this,” he said.

But the deputy chief of the Russian general staff responded on August 22 by saying: “We will not ask or consult with Mr. Saakashvili about the buffer zone.”

The six-point ceasefire agreement – brokered by France on behalf of EU - and a letter of guarantee and clarification sent by the French President Nikola Sarkozy to his Georgian counterpart, before the latter signed the accord, specifies that the Russian forces can carry out “additional security measures” in the immediate vicinity of South Ossetia. The area will not include any “major urban area” - specifically the town of Gori, according to the French President’s letter.

Meanwhile, on the Abkhaz direction the Russian forces are also reinforcing checkpoints across the administrative border between the breakaway region and Georgia, the deputy chief of the general staff of the Russian armed forces, said.

Nogovitsin said that “the Russian troops are performing peacekeeping operation” in upper Kodori Gorge and had also established checkpoints in the northern part of Enguri river, which runs on the administrative border between breakaway Abkhazia and Georgia.

He also said that all the Georgian “illegally placed” checkpoints along the administrative border with Abkhazia had been “liquidated”

He said that in Zugdidi, on the Georgian side of the administrative border, the Russian troops were continuing protecting the local government buildings. Earlier on August 22, the Georgian media sources reported that the Russian troops quit all the administrative buildings seized on August 11 in Zugdidi.

Nogovitsin also made it clear at the news conference that Russia was not happy with the presence of western military vessels in the Black Sea.

“Yesterday Spanish and German military vessels moved in not far from the Abkhazian borders and of course we do not quite understand why some other vessels are involved in the peacekeeping in this area,” he said.

The Russia’s Black Sea fleet continues patrolling not far from the Abkhaz shores, Nogovitsin said.

“We do not think it [presence of other vessels] really helps to stabilize the situation in the area, because the situation now is under the control of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” he added.

Three NATO warships entered into the Black Sea on August 21 in a move which has nothing to with the current crisis in Georgia, an official at NATO's military command said

They are “conducting a pre-planned routine visit to the Black Sea region to interact and exercise with our NATO partners Romania and Bulgaria, which is an important feature of our routine planning,” Vice-Adm. Pim Bedet, deputy commander at allied maritime headquarters in Northwood, England, said, according to The Associated Press.

The three NATO military ships include the Spanish Almirante Don Juan Bordon; German F214-Lübeck and the Polish ORP General K Pulaski.

Two U.S. Navy ships, including a guided missile destroyer USS McFaul, and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter are also on their way to Georgia to deliver humanitarian aid, according to the U.S. European Command.

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