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Georgia says Russia failed to fulfill military pullout obligation

TBILISI, November 23 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's Foreign Ministry said Friday that Russia had not fulfilled all its obligations under previous agreements on the complete withdrawal of its military bases from the country.

The Georgian ministry said Moscow had not yet closed its base in Gudauta, in the zone of a conflict between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia.

"Despite the June 2001 announcement of the closure of the base in Gudauta, it had not been closed and is still functioning. Its infrastructure is used in the interests of the Russian Armed Forces," the ministry said.

According to some sources, about 400 personnel are still stationed at Gudauta, along with some combat and transport helicopters, various military vehicles, a fuel storage area, and some other facilities.

Moscow has never allowed international inspections of the base and has provided no data on suspected stockpiles of arms and ammunition. The Russian military also maintains the Bombora airfield, which is part of the Gudauta base complex.

Tbilisi insists that Russia cannot be deemed to have fulfilled the terms of the CFE Treaty and Istanbul Commitments as long as the issue of the Gudauta base remains unresolved.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Russia had completed the withdrawal of its troops from Georgia almost a year early than the agreed deadline, despite Tbilisi's unfriendly foreign policy.

The ministry said Georgia insisted on the soonest withdrawal of Russian military bases, citing the so called Istanbul commitments, a set of declarations signed along with the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty in 1999, which appear in a Russian-Georgian statement dated November 17, 1999.

An agreement on the withdrawal of two Russian bases - the 12th in Batumi and 62nd in Akhalkalaki - was signed in March 2006. The Akhalkalaki base was to be fully handed over by October 1, 2007 and the Batumi base by the end of 2008.

The Akhalkalaki base was handed over to Georgia before the October deadline - in late June, and the last train with equipment from the Batumi base left Georgia November 15. Russia accelerated the withdrawal following escalated tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Georgia and Russia have been negotiating the withdrawal since 2001, with Moscow initially pressing for a 14-year deadline, which was then cut to eight years, while Tbilisi insisted on 3-4 years, which was then reduced to 2-3 years.

Russia's continued military presence has been a major point of controversy in its relations with post-Soviet Georgia. The leadership of the South Caucasus nation has repeatedly accused Russian authorities of providing support for separatists in the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Tbilisi is determined to bring back under its control.

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