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Russia to withdraw Tbilisi garrison early - minister

MOSCOW, October 10 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will withdraw its garrison deployed in the Georgian capital Tbilisi ahead of schedule, the deputy prime minister and defense minister said Tuesday.

The Tbilisi garrison houses the headquarters of the Group of Russian Forces in the Russian Caucasus and was supposed to be withdrawn after the pullout of two Soviet-era bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi in 2007 and 2008, respectively. But a diplomatic spat following the arrest of four Russian officers in Tbilisi in late September for alleged spying prompted Moscow to review the timeframe for the withdrawal.

"I have adopted a resolution and signed a directive that the entire Tbilisi garrison of Russia's contingent in the South Caucasus leave Georgia before December 31," Sergei Ivanov said. "Three hundred eighty-seven Russian servicemen will leave Georgia."

But he said the two bases will be pulled out in accordance with the schedule. "As to the bases, they will be withdrawn on schedule - from Akhalkalaki in 2007 and from Batumi in 2008 - with all the Russian equipment they hold," Ivanov said.

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