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23 Aug, 2008 07:54

Russian troops complete Georgia withdrawal

The final Russian troops assisting peacekeepers in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone completed their withdrawal on Friday, according to a Defence Ministry spokesman. Peacekeepers forces will remain in South Osset

Moscow says Russian troops are operating fully in accordance with international agreements.

“Only Russian peacekeeping units will remain at specially equipped security check-posts within the limits of security zones established in line with coordinated security principles, which Russia strictly abides by,” said Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

He added that the withdrawal complied with earlier orders given by President Dmitry Medvedev.

Following last week’s ceasefire agreement, troops attached to the peacekeeping contingent have been stationed inside Georgia proper to provide added security.

During hostilities, Georgian authorities fled towns in the conflict zone, abandoning civilians. Russian troops have overseen deliveries of humanitarian aid and maintained order before handing the towns over to the control of Georgian police.

Peacekeepers to patrol buffer zones

Questioned about the legality of Russia's peacekeeping presence in the buffer areas at a news conference on Saturday, Russia's Deputy Chief of General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn quoted a statement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

“These additional measures to provide security would mean patrols by Russian peacekeeping forces in the areas specified by the existing agreements along with the withdrawal of the Russian forces to their positions as they were on August 7, before the start of the war,” he quoted Sarkozy as saying.

Nogovitsyn said this confirms the legitimacy of Russia's patrols of the buffer areas.

Renewed conflict fears

Georgia is intent on achieving territorial integrity at any cost, and may be planning another attack on one of its two breakaway republics, said Colonel General Nogovitsyn.

“The potential of the Georgian armed forces is being restored only for a new aggression … In its desire to resolve the territorial problem at any cost, it has in fact declared preparations for the third conflict, as they [the Georgian leadership] apparently find the previous two not enough,” Nogovitsyn said.

Russia's navy sails home

The first Russian warship to leave the coast of Abkhasia returned to its base in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol on Friday.

According to reports, the 'Corvette Mirazh' sunk a Georgian missile boat while taking part in the peace enforcement operation near Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhasia.

Other vessels, including the Russian Black Sea Fleet's flagship, are due to return later.

Ukrainian nationalists planned a large scale protest against the Fleet, but only a few dozen demonstrators turned up.

Russia's air force has also returned from the area.

“The air grouping which operated in the interests of Russian peacekeepers in South Abkhazia has fulfilled the tasks  set,” said Russia's Deputy General Staff Anaytoly Nogovitsyn on Friday.

“Twenty-five attack aircraft and three fighter jets yesterday returned to their bases,” Nogovitsyn said.