Russia rejects UN Georgia pullback draft

Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin maintained at the UN Security Council Tuesday night, Aug. 19, that the French-brokered ceasefire accord his government and Georgia signed allows Russian troops to stay in a buffer zone on the Georgian side of the South Ossetian border. He advised against putting the draft to the vote, indicating it would run into a Russian veto.
Churkin objected to the draft’s affirmation of Georgia’s territorial integrity, saying South Ossetia and Abkhazia did not want to be part of Georgia.
Russian president Dimitry Medvedev reportedly answered Nicolas Sarkozy’s complaint about the laggard pace of Russia’s troop pull-out by promising that by Friday, those troops would either be sent home, pulled back to South Ossetia or to a buffer zone along the border. No numbers were offered.
Moscow earlier dismissed the NATO warning that normal relations with Russia were impossible while its troops remained in Georgia. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov accused NATO of “trying to make a victim of the aggressor to absolve of guilt a criminal regime.”
A small column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles left Gori, Tuesday, Aug. 19, but there was no other visible sign of a Russian withdrawal as demanded by the West. Moscow has agreed to the first 20 international ceasefire monitors being sent out to Georgia “very quickly” as US secretary of state Condoleezza reported Tuesday, after a NATO crisis meeting, but no moves to speed up Georgia’s admission to the Atlantic Alliance were announced.
Russia and Georgia also exchanged prisoners, handing over 15 Georgians and six Russians, two of them pilots. In the Black Sea port of Poti in western Georgia, Russian soldiers were seen capturing 20 Georgians and commandeering four American Humvees used in US-Georgian military exercises. The White House later issued a statement that any equipment Russia has taken in Georgia “needs to be returned immediately.”
Correspondents reported Monday that the Russians had “stripped down” NATO-standard equipment at a Georgian military installation outside Poti, seizing some hardware and destroying other pieces, including a Georgian coast guard vessel.
Russian troops are building a security zone on the Georgian side of the South Ossetian border and Russian checkpoints block the main east-west highway which links Tbilisi with the Black Sea ports.
Stepping up the pressure on Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, Moscow closed its land border with Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan to citizens who are not from the CIS, a grouping of former Soviet states. Air, sea and rails links have been cut, placing Georgia under a virtual blockade.

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