RUSSIAN FORCES BEGIN WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIA, DIG HEELS IN MOLDOVA
By Vladimir Socor

Eurasia Daily Monitor, DC
The Jamestown Foundation
Aug 1 2005

Monday, August 1, 2005

Presented with flowers and Georgian champagne by demonstrators cheering
their withdrawal, Russian soldiers set out from the Batumi base
at dawn on July 30 in a convoy bound for Russia. The move marks the
beginning of Russia's implementation of the agreement, signed May 30 by
Ministers of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Salome Zourabichvili,
on the closure of three Russian bases and the complete withdrawal of
their garrisons from Georgia by 2008.

The convoy of nine wheeled armored vehicles crossed Georgia's entire
territory from west to east, proceeding via Mtskheta, Tskhinvali,
and the Roki Tunnel, en route to Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia.

On July 28, a convoy of four armored vehicles and four trucks left
Russia's base at Akhalkalaki in Georgia, as part of a scheduled
relocation of some of the weaponry from Akhalkalaki to the Russian
base at Gyumri in Armenia. Georgian border guards near Ninotsminda
briefly stopped that convoy when they found five unlisted machine-guns
and five signal guns during inspection of the vehicles. The episode
demonstrated the Georgian border guards' effectiveness in carrying
out the mutually agreed inspection procedure. The incident was quickly
resolved and the convoy allowed to proceed.

During the month of August, more Russian equipment is scheduled to
be moved from the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases, partly to Russia and
partly to Armenia. Two amphibious ships will evacuate the largest
convoy, consisting of 40 armored vehicles and including 20 battle
tanks, from Batumi to Russia.

The Russian military has asked Georgia to repair or reinforce certain
bridges on the road from the Akhalkalaki base to Akhaltsikhe, so as
to make possible the movement of a planned convoy of Russian heavy
weaponry. From Akhaltsikhe, the convoy would travel by rail to Batumi
by rail, then to Russia by sea.

An ad-hoc staff of Russian generals and officers has arrived at
the Tbilisi headquarters of the Group of Russian Forces in the
Transcaucasus to supervise the withdrawal of equipment and troops.

Some transit issues of political and technical nature are yet to
be resolved, however. Talks held on July 25-26 in Moscow did not
conclusively settle these issues.

In a specially convened briefing on July 29, Zourabichvili welcomed
Russia's political decision on withdrawal of its forces from Georgia
and the beginning of the agreement's implementation. By signing the
agreement, Zourabichvili noted, Russia has undertaken an obligation
before Georgia and the entire international community to carry out the
withdrawal fully and on schedule (Rustavi-2 TV, Imedi TV, Interfax,
NTV Mir, Arminfo, July 28-31; see EDM, May 24, June 3).

In Moldova, however, Russia seems to be signaling that it has no
intention to withdraw its forces, despite its 1999 Istanbul commitments
to withdraw them from both Georgia and Moldova unconditionally. On July
29, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov declared that Russian
troops would not leave Moldova until Russian arsenals there are
relocated to Russia. At the same time, Russia takes the position that
the arsenals cannot be removed until Chisinau agrees with Tiraspol on
a political settlement. Charging that the Moldovan leadership's calls
for Russian troop withdrawal "are aimed at damaging Russian-Moldovan
relations," Ivanov scoffed, "They can want whatever they like. There
is nothing wrong with wanting something." (In the same statement,
Ivanov used an identical phrase to dismiss NATO's proposal to extend
Operation Active Endeavor with Russian participation into the Black
Sea.) (Interfax, Russian Television Channel One, July 29).

In a July 30 statement, Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs insists
that implementation of the "so-called Istanbul accords" is conditional
on a political resolution between Chisinau and Tiraspol "with the
assistance of Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE." Moscow's statement goes
on to criticize the Moldovan parliament's July 22 law on the basic
principles of a settlement (see EDM, July 26) for "hampering the
efforts by mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and OSCE." (Interfax,
July 30). On July 31, Russia's charge d'affaires in Chisinau, Yuri
Mordvintsev, portrayed Russia's military presence in Moldova as
"responsibility for peacekeeping" by Russia as a "guarantor country
and mediator country ... ready along with Ukraine and the OSCE to
continue providing assistance" (RIA-Novosti, July 31).