Georgian foreign minister pleased with talks with Russian counterpart

RIA Novosti
May 31, 2005

MOSCOW, May 31 (RIA Novosti) - Salome Zurabishvili and Sergei Lavrov,
the foreign ministers of Georgia and Russia, met yesterday and agreed
to complete the closure of Russia's military bases in Georgia in 2008.

"I am very pleased with the meeting," Zurabishvili said in an interview
with today's issue of Noviye Izvestia, a popular daily. "The day when
it took place can truly be called historic." The Georgian minister said
it marked the start of new relations and a new stage in cooperation
between the two countries.

Both countries had to make concessions. Georgia had proposed 2007 as
the deadline for the bases' withdrawal, whereas Russia had insisted
on 2009. "We agreed on 2008, which is a reasonable compromise,"
Zurabishvili said.

The term "phased withdrawal" means a coordinated action plan. All
Russia's military facilities, except the bases themselves, will be
handed over to Georgia in 2005. In 2006, Russia is expected to pull
out heavy materiel from the base in Akhalkalaki, on the border with
Armenia, while the base itself will be closed the following year. In
2008, Russia will withdraw heavy equipment from the Batumi base,
on the Black Sea, and close it.

Zurabishvili said Russia was free to decide whether Russian troops
should be redeployed in Armenia or Abkhazia, a self-proclaimed republic
on Georgian territory.

Zurabishvili said the Russian forces on Georgian soil were not the
only problem that had strained relations between Russia and Georgia:
"We are facing a whole range of problems, while the smoldering
conflicts are the most acute of them." "Still, the emotional burden
of deciding what is 'mine' and what is not is the most difficult
question," she said. "It makes other problems worse and complicates
their solution." Zurabishvili said that eliminating this negative
emotional background would help ensure favorable conditions for
building new, truly friendly relations between Georgia and Russia.