Georgia military pull-out may quicken - Russian defence chief

Russian Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov said Russia might accelerate withdrawal of two military bases in Georgia. Pull-out is due from the facilities at Akhalkalaki and Batumi by 2008 though withdrawal was suspended over the weeke

Ivanov now says Russia does not plan to move any more troops into Georgia and that complete withdrawal could be ahead of time. “We are definitely not going to increase the number of our troops in Georgia. It does not make any sense to us,“ Ivanov said. ”We will move our two bases out of Georgia according to schedule. Actually, we may even proceed ahead of schedule because given the environment our soldiers and officers have to face there, you can imagine how they feel.”

Georgia is beginning to feel the pinch as sanctions take hold. In the capital, Tbilisi, Georgian politicians are holding a rally outside the city's Russian embassy. The rally aims to bring supporters of the ruling party together with members from opposition groups. With local elections set for Thursday, our correspondent in Tbilisi, Helena Bedwell, called this a significant move:

“This rally was planned by the group of opposition parties. It is a so-called coalition of opposition parties which will take part in the coming elections,” she said. “This group consists of several parties, among which are republicans and conservatives. But after the situation with the arrested Russian officers, they have suddenly announced that their group is going to put on hold their pre-election campaign. They are going just simply to express their views regarding the way Russia is handling this situation.”

Thousands of Georgians work in Russia as guest workers. Remittances from migrant workers are thought to contribute one sixth of Georgia's national income. But Konstantin Yanovsky, a political analyst with the Transitional Economy Institute, said it was unlikely that sanctions would seriously undermine the Georgian economy.

“The current situation with Russia-Georgia relations will hardly have a negative impact on Russia's economy as Georgia has never been Russia's key economic partner. As for Georgia's economy, the crisis will only cause short-term problems and mainly to those companies whose business is Russian-related,“ he said. ”Generally it's bad when a political conflict influences the economic landscape. The crisis will signal to Georgia's small - and medium-size businesses that partnership with Russia is risky and can at any moment cause huge losses.”