Medvedev Agrees to Withdrawal Plan

APSarkozy sharing the stage with Barroso, Medvedev and Lavrov as he addresses reporters after Monday's meeting at Maiendorf Castle, outside Moscow.
MAIENDORF CASTLE, Moscow Region — Russia has agreed to remove its troops from "buffer zones" in Georgia within 10 days of the deployment of additional EU monitors.

At a news conference following four hours of talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Medvedev said the total withdrawal from the zones surrounding the separatist republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia would follow the arrival of at least 200 European Union monitors, to arrive no later than Oct. 1.

Sarkozy, who holds the rotating EU presidency and helped broker the six-point cease-fire agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi last month, said the Russian military would also dismantle its checkpoints around the Black Sea port of Poti within the next seven days.

"In one week, the checkpoints will be dismantled. In one month, Russian military forces will be outside Georgian territory, with the exception, naturally, of [South] Ossetia and Abkhazia," Sarkozy said.

Sarkozy, who was accompanied by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, met with Medvedev at the Maiendorf Castle presidential residence, outside Moscow, to address the EU's complaint that the presence of Russian soldiers in Georgia proper contradicted the provisions of the cease-fire agreement.

Russian troops rolled into Georgia on Aug. 8 after turning back an attempt by the Georgian army to take control of the separatist Moscow-backed republic of South Ossetia by force.

The international outcry that followed the establishment of a military presence in Georgia proper intensified later in August, when Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Only one country, Nicaragua, followed Russia's suit and recognized the two republics last week.

Visibly content with the results of the talks, Medvedev said afterward that international organizations should start treating the two republics as independent states.

After Sarkozy replied that it was not Russia's place to determine Georgia's borders, Medvedev simply exchanged smiles with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who stood nearby as Medvedev briefed reporters.

"If the international discussion begins [at the UN] in Geneva, then there is something to discuss," Sarkozy said.

His comments echoed EU criticism that the recognition of independence for the two republics was a violation of Georgia's territorial integrity. An emergency meeting last week of European leaders failed, however, to produce any measures against Moscow other than the suspension of negotiations for a new EU-Russia accord.

And the outcome of Monday's talks took even that measure off the table, as Sarkozy said Monday that he saw no reason why the talks couldn't resume if Moscow follows up on the pullout agreement.

Ria-Novosti / Reuters
Sarkozy walking Monday with Medvedev at his Maiendorf Castle residence.

A government source who took part in the negotiations, speaking on condition of anonymity after the talks, told The Moscow Times that the Kremlin had been seriously concerned about the resumptions of talks on the accord, an issue the had EU tied to the outcome of the talks.

Some kind of accommodation appeared increasingly likely in the run-up to the meeting, as Russian and EU officials sent signals that they were willing to accede to at least some of the other side's demands.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said just before the two presidents sat down for talks that an independent EU monitoring mission would "lead to an unnecessary fragmentation" of the international monitoring efforts currently carried out by the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

But he said increased involvement by the OSCE, of which Russia is a member, was an option.

For its part, the EU was prepared to take an increased role in monitoring efforts under the auspices of either the OSCE or the UN, or to act on its own, Solana said in an interview with Kommersant of the eve of the trip.

Sarkozy, Solana and Barroso flew on Monday evening to Tbilisi, where they were to discuss the outcome of the talks with Medvedev with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Tbilisi continued over the weekend to denounce the continued presence of Russian troops on its territory and complain of violations of its airspace by Russian military aircraft.

Two jets flew a mission over the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali and the village of Shatili in Georgia proper on Sunday morning, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released Sunday. The statement suggested that the jets were conducting a reconnaissance mission.

The ministry also said the Russian military was reinforcing, rather than vacating, its checkpoints the Black Sea port of Poti, which was visited Saturday by the USS Mount Whitney, flagship of the U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet.

One of the checkpoints, located even further into Georgia than the seven-kilometer buffer zone to which the Russian military has claimed it is entitled, was reinforced Sunday by 5 armored personnel carriers and about 50 additional troops, while another checkpoint nearby was reinforced with one APC, another military vehicle and about 10 soldiers, the ministry said.

Saakashvili remained adamant Sunday that South Ossetia and Abkhazia would remain part of Georgia, saying the West would help his country regain control of the regions.

"Our territorial integrity will be restored, I am more convinced of this than ever," Saakashvili said in a televised appearance on Sunday, The Associated Press reported. "This will not be an easy process, but now this is a process between an irate Russia and the rest of the world."