EU Says Troops Not Neutral

APNATO says Russian railway troops are heightening tensions with Georgia.
The European Parliament said Thursday that Russia's peacekeeping mission in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia was no longer neutral and the terms of its deployment must be changed.

A senior U.S. diplomat, meanwhile, welcomed Russia's endorsement of a Georgian peace plan for the breakaway Abkhazia region as "tremendous news."

In a resolution, the EU assembly demanded that the EU send its own border mission to Abkhazia to bolster the international presence there after tensions between Russia and Georgia escalated in recent weeks.

"The Russian troops have lost their role of neutral and impartial peacekeepers," the EU assembly said in their strongest criticism of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia to date.

Some 2,500 Russian troops are stationed in Abkhazia, and an additional 300 soldiers have recently arrived. Russia has said the new forces are in the region to restore rail links with Sochi.

The European Parliament demanded in its resolution -- which is not binding -- that EU leaders raise the issue of Russian involvement in the two provinces at an EU-Russia summit in late June.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza, while on a visit to Moscow on Thursday, applauded Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's approval last week of a plan from Tbilisi to give the separatists autonomy within Georgia.

"The fact that he [Putin] sees something positive in this peace initiative is tremendous news and reflective of what I said before, that there's no way any of these conflicts can be resolved without Russia," Bryza said.

"That was a refreshing moment, unexpected. Russia is nothing if not full of things you don't expect. Often good, often not so good -- in this case it was good," he said.

He is meeting Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Security Council deputy head Yury Zubakov.

Also Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana arrived in Georgia. President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili are to meet in St. Petersburg on Friday.

A report from the International Crisis Group think tank said this week that Georgia shared some of the blame for the escalation in tensions because some hawks in Tbilisi were seriously considering a military option.