Thursday, August 21, 2008

Russia Announces Pullout Date - What, Again?

Russia has announced a "firm" date for withdrawing it's troops from central Georgia back into an area behind a "buffer zone" in South Ossetia. Hasn't the world been assured of a Russian pullout before?
Russia has announced that it will begin withdrawing troops from Georgia back into South Ossetia behind a buffer zone where Georgian forces will not be allowed by late Friday, according to reports coming out of Moscow. The announcement comes from General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy head of Russia's General Staff, who made the announcement at a Moscow news conference, stating that Russia will observe a 1992 peacekeeping agreement between Russia and Georgia. He further stated that Georgia had violated the terms of the agreement by withdrawing their own peacekeepers and sending them toward the regional capital, Tskhinvali, thus negating their right to engage in peacekeeping operations within the region.

Georgian officials say that Russia is the aggressor, and may not be considered a peacekeeper itself. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told VOA that the buffer zone around South Ossetia is ill-defined and that Russia is "playing games" with the facts.

Utiashvili says Russian officials show journalists one thing during the day, and return their forces at night. He claims that the number of checkpoints and amount of territory held by Russian forces are not decreasing.

Given the previous announcements of cease-fire orders and troop withdrawals by Moscow, it's a reasonable understanding why Georgian officials are skeptical that Russia will withdraw it's troops at this point. Georgia isn't alone in doubting Russia, as negotiations between Russia and NATO reached a near total breakdown yesterday, with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice harshly criticizing Russia for it's actions in Georgia.

U.S. Secretary of State led the charge against Russia, beginning with sharply-worded statements to journalists on the plane over to Brussels. At the meeting, Rice also spoke of Russia’s increasing aviation presence in near Alaska. “It is not cost free,” Rice commented. “This is a very dangerous game, and perhaps one the Russians might want to reconsider.” Moscow responded to that statement through Deputy Chief of the General Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn yesterday. “That is a Russian issue,” Nogovitsyn said. “The decision on those flights was made by the supreme commander. Strategic aviation will no longer remain laid up. There is nothing criminal about it. We’ve been flying there for half a year already.”

Sources in Western diplomatic circles say the NATO session was tense. The United States, some of the Scandinavian countries and the vast majority of Eastern European countries were in favor of taking a hard line against Russian actions and quickly providing Georgia with a membership action plan. Western European diplomats, in particular French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, opposed a harsh position. The final statement from the four-hour-long session was a compromise.

For now, the world can only wait, watching to see if Russia will, this time, follow through with it's word to withdraw troops back at least into South Ossetia. From there, the future remains uncertain. One thing that is certain, as the situation in Georgia begins to, hopefully, wind down, Russia has certainly shown exactly how much her current government can be trusted by the rest of the world.

Once and Always, an American Fighting Man


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