The Messenger, Georgia
May 31 2005

Georgia, Russia ready to ink deal on base pullout

Akhalkalaki base to be gone by October 2007, Batumi base by January 2008

By Mary Makharashvili

The entrance to the Russian base in Akhalkalaki; on Monday Russian
and Georgian officials agreed to immediately begin closing down the
base and withdrawal at least 20 tanks by September 1

After nearly six years of gridlock, Tbilisi and Moscow are two
signatures away from finalizing the agreement concerning the last
remaining Russian military bases in Georgia.

The two sides finally completed negotiations Monday, May 30, during
talks between Georgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Salome Zurabichvili
and her Russian colleague Sergey Lavrov. The latest meeting followed
a round of talks in Tbilisi last week.

Tbilisi sources claimed it was Russia that agreed to a compromise
though Georgia's commitments in the agreement have not been fully
disclosed. According to reports, the Russian government agreed to
start withdrawing from Akhalkalaki first, followed by the base in
Batumi. This process should last until January 1, 2008, which gives
the Russian army around two-and-a-half years to close the bases.

"I am happy to announce that the negotiations dealing with the final
document concerning different issues in Russia-Georgian relations
are over. In this document, a significant importance is given to
the process of the withdrawing Russian military bases - first from
Akhalkalaki and then from Batumi," Lavrov said at a press briefing
after the negotiations.

According to Zurabishvili, the talks marked an important landmark
in negotiations. "A very constructive and important step was made,"
she said. "We achieved the aim we were working on."

Gela Charkviani, the presidential spokesman, said that the decision
to have this latest meeting was the result of a telephone conversation
between the Georgian and Russian presidents on May 26.

In a briefing on Monday evening he also read aloud certain sections of
the document. According to the agreement, the Russian military bases
will suspend their activities and exist in a "withdrawal regime." The
withdrawal of heavy equipment will begin this year and at least 40
pieces of heavy equipment will be removed by September 1, including
20 tanks.

It is not clear, however, where the Russian army will transfer the
equipment to. Reports that it could speed the withdrawal by taking
the arms to Armenia were met with heavy protests in Baku.

The document also specifies that the Russian side has until June 15,
2005 to transfer ownership of a tank repair factory in Georgia. They
have until September 1 to transfer other factories and buildings that
do not support the bases in Georgia.

The schedule for the pullout is laid out clearly according to reports
of the agreement. "After the signing of the document, Russian soldiers
will organize the withdrawal of equipment and other belongings. The
withdrawal of heavy equipment from Akhalkalaki should occur by the
end of 2006. The withdrawal of the entire base of Akhalkalaki will
be completed by October 1, 2007," the document stipulates.

While all politicians in Georgia welcome the news, some fear that
Georgia was forced into some unreasonable compromises, such as creating
joint anti-terrorist units.

"I am satisfied since just two or three months ago there was talk
of eleven years and USD 500 million was one of the terms to begin
negotiations on this issue. Now this process is almost finished,"
said Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs Kote

However, MP Zurab Tkemaladze said that the most important thing
is the terms forcing Russian soldiers out of Georgia and he is
not satisfied that those demands were met. "I want to say that if
these anti-terrorist centers replace these bases, the agreement is
senseless," he said.

But Temur Yakobashvili, the vice president of the Georgian Foundation
for Strategic and International Studies, believes the agreement
reached on May 30 is a positive continuation of the Istanbul agreement.

In an interview with The Messenger, he said that the fact the sides
finally agreed on the issue to withdraw the bases is itself a positive
moment that supports the theory that Russia's attitude toward Georgia
has changed.

"All this means that Russia has made a step toward cooperation with
Georgia," he said. "Russia was requesting 11 years for withdrawing
its bases from the Georgian territory and now they agreed to three
years. That already means a lot." He added that while three years
still seems like a long time to withdraw two small bases, the most
important thing is that an agreement was reached.

According to agreements signed at the OSCE Istanbul Summit in 1999,
Russia has already withdrawn from the Vaziani military base and
declared that the Gudauta base is no longer functioning. However,
Tbilisi demands that an international monitoring group confirms that
the base is completely closed.

Based on the information released by the Prime News Agency, there
are over 3,000 Russian military personnel at the military bases
in Akhalkalaki and Batumi. Also on Monday, the ministers agreed to
finally delineate the countries' shared borders, sections of which
had not been determined since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress