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18 Aug, 2008 19:52

Fears of power vacuum as Russia pulls out

Russian military forces are returning to their starting positions in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone – despite fears of a power vacuum which Russian military officials believe may prompt more action by Georgia.

The withdrawal is part of a six-point plan drawn-up by Russia and France and follows a weekend conversation between President Dmitry Medvedev and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, Anatoly Nogovitsyn, has said Georgian units are attempting to increase their combat readiness and have intensified ‘subversive’ operations against Russian servicemen.

The troops will take up the posts they held before the outbreak of fighting, and as defined in a 1999 agreement.

Russian troops are no longer acting under the assumption that South Ossetia is a part of Georgia, so will go to the border between South Ossetia and Georgia. Some troops will remain stationed in Tskhinvali.

Russia has also stressed the need for Georgia to also return its forces to agreed positions.

However, local people are not treating the news of Russia’s exit favourably, as most Ossetians perceive them as saviours. There are fears among some of them that if the Russians leave, Georgia might launch another attack.

Nonetheless, it is hoped that the withdrawal will help bring stability back to South Ossetia.

Life there is already beginning its attempts to return to some sense of normality.

According to Russia's migration ministry, out of 37,000 refugees that left for Russia during the conflict, 8,000 have already returned to South Ossetia.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry has announced that the country is submitting complaints of war crimes by the Georgian army in the South Ossetian conflict to the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Russia wants to be respected – Medvedev

Russia's President has praised soldiers combating what he called, 'Georgia’s cowardly aggression'. Dmitry Medvedev says the crime against the entire ethnic group in South Ossetia won’t be left unpunished.

“The world has now seen that even in our time there are political freaks who kill people to achieve their selfish goals and who compensate for their lack of intelligence an a most terrible way by destroying an entire people. We will make sure that this crime is not left unpunished,” he said.

The Russian President made the comments during his visit to the North Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz.

He awarded medals to servicemen involved in the conflict and promised financial help to the families of troops who had been killed. He said the conduct of the operation proved the military had become stronger and more efficient, and he promised further funding to upgrade the army.

Earlier Medvedev said Russia does not want to worsen international tensions, but does want to be respected. He warned that any aggression against Russia's people or interests would be met with a firm response.

“We've always been a peaceful state,” he said. “But if anyone thinks they can get away with killing our citizens, soldiers and officers who are carrying out a peacekeeping mission, we will not allow this. Anyone who tries to do something of the kind will receive a crushing response. We have all the capabilities – economic, political and military.”