Russians going home, and other places
By David Matsaberidze
Thursday, August 21
Russian military formations will leave Georgia by August 22, the President of the Russian Federation Dimitry Medvedev confirmed in a telephone conversation with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy on August 19. Meanwhile, under the pretext of preparing for withdrawal from Georgia, the Russian military formations and heavy artillery constantly relocate all over the country, damaging not only Georgian property but foreign investments as well.
President Medvedev reiterated that a 500 soldier strong unit of his army will be temporarily placed in the conflict zones of Georgia as ‘peacekeepers’ as soon as their bases are organized. The rest will move to North Ossetia in the Russian Federation.
The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, at a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary David Milliband in Tbilisi late on August 19, said that “He [Sarkozy] again, urged Russian withdrawal from Georgia.”
Amidst continuing contention in the international arena over the withdrawal of Russian forces and claims made about this by the Russian side, the Russian military continues to devastate the country’s infrastructure. Although four illegal checkpoints in Gori (near the business area, railway station and city centre), were dismantled, Russian soldiers still restrict free movement on the highways.
Russians have occupied the village of Perevi, in Sachkere region, near the Tskhinvali conflict zone. This village connects Sachkere region to the settlement of Djava. The Russians told the residents to leave their houses and the village itself. The Governor of the region, Zurab Tsertsvadze, stated that the Russian soldiers are extremely aggressive, although he asked the local population not to panic and to stay indoors. The local administration met in the village of Chala and is monitoring the situation. According to information received, the Russians do not intend to enter Sachkere, but the local police have been mobilized to take control.
The situation has also worsened in other parts of western Georgia. Russian occupiers have blown up the Reservist Base at Osiauri. The MIA has confirmed this, although it said that the soldiers and their equipment had already been moved out of the facility. The Port of Poti remains another hot spot, being occupied by Russian forces who have taken Georgian soldiers hostage, as TV Rustavi2 reports. “At least 21 Georgian military policemen were arrested by the Russian forces in Poti, Georgian officials said. Captured and blindfolded Georgian servicemen are seen on a Russian armoured vehicle on this screenshot from CNN, Civil Georgia reports. The White House has issued a special statement on Russian activities in the Port of Poti. Special Representative Gordon Jondro expressed his hope that Russia will return the US Hummers and other military equipment its forces have taken away from the port.
International society remains actively interested in developments in Georgia and the Russian withdrawal. The General Secretary of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, has stressed the need to pass a resolution regarding the recent situation in Georgia in a telephone conversation with President Medvedev. Prior to this conversation, Ban Ki-Moon voiced the necessity of adopting a new resolution. In spite of the continued activity of its troops, Russia claims that its withdrawal of military formations began on August 18, although Tbilisi does not confirm this.
The situation could worsen even further. Prime News reports that the Council of the Russian Federation is ready to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, if the peoples of the two republics want it and if there is a relevant decree from the President of Russia. Meanwhile the Parliament of breakaway Abkhazia plans to convene a special session on August 20 to discuss making an appeal to the President and Parliament of Russia asking for recognition.