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Russia explains its continuing presence in Akhalgori

By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, October 13
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that the Georgian-Russian ceasefire agreement didn’t mention any pullout of Russian troops from the Akhalgori region of the Georgian breakaway territory of South Ossetia. Russian troops, which left the occupied Georgian territories on October 8, are still in position in Akhalgori.

“I’ve heard that some European representatives are expressing regret that the Russian peacekeepers have not left the Akhalgori district,” Lavrov told Russian journalists in Dortmund on October 12, during a meeting with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “This is not a violation of Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, because it is written in black on white there that we should only pull out of the areas adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia as EU monitors enter these regions. Akhalgori is within South Ossetia’s boundaries, hence provisions of the plan do not cover it [Akhalgori],” he added.

Georgia states that the ceasefire agreement has been violated, because Akhalgori is not a South Ossetian territory and according to the plan Russian troops have no right to stay there. “The Russians have not fulfilled the first part of the agreement. There are no reasons for the Russians to stay in Akhalgori,” stated Georgian State Minister on Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili on October 11. The head of the Georgian Parliament’s Security and Defence Committee, Givi Targamadze, says that the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan “clearly” says that the troops have to return to the locations they had before the start of the conflict on August 8. “And that means that Russian military forces have to leave Kodori and Akhalgori,” said Targamadze.

“The major part of the international community agrees that the obligation of the Russian troops to leave the occupied territories has not been fulfilled,” stated Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili, commenting on the Akhalgori issue to the Georgian journalists on October 12. She stressed that Georgia will demand the full withdrawal of the Russian military. Georgian independent political commentator Gia Khukhashvili, talking to The Messenger, described Russia’s decision to stay in Akhalgori as “unjust.” “If the [Medvedev-Sarkozy] plan talks about the return of the sides to the status quo, the district of Akhalgori should be returned to the jurisdiction of Georgia, just like the other Georgian villages still occupied by Russian troops,” he believes.

When asked if Russia was in compliance with the ceasefire accords, French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, said during his visit to Georgia on October 10: “I think so, but partly.” He acknowledged that the presence of Russian forces in Akhalgori was “a problem we are aware of,” which would form part of the discussions in international talks in Geneva on October 15.

Russian military forces occupied about 30% of Georgian territory after the August conflict. The six-point agreement signed on August 12 by the Presidents of Russia and France stopped the direct hostilities. According to this and a further EU-Russian agreement Russian troops were obliged to leave Georgian territory on October 10, to be replaced by EU monitors. The Geneva discussions were also part of the same plan, but the Russians are insisting on the participation of representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in these discussions, something not mentioned in the ceasefire agreements.