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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Boosted by Deal To Slash Russian Forces




In a move that will blunt its influence in the Caucasus, Russia has agreed to slash its military forces in Georgia.


The agreement was negotiated last week in Istanbul during the summit meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and completed even as Russia pressed ahead with its military campaign in Chechnya, Georgia's neighbor.


"We achieved almost everything we would have liked," Archil Gegeshidze, the foreign policy adviser to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "It is very important and the beginning of a new relationship with the Russians."


The agreement was not the only understanding sealed in Istanbul. Moscow also agreed to withdraw its 2,500 troops from Moldova by the end of 2002, marking a further retreat from the former Soviet republics around Russia's periphery, which Russians refer to as the "near abroad."


Georgia, a former Soviet republic with a pro-Western policy, has a complex relationship with Russia. Russia has four military bases in Georgia, and the Georgians do not want all of them to close just yet.


Still, Georgia has been looking for a way to reduce Russia's military presence, and the new accord will help Shevardnadze's government move away from Moscow's shadow.


As Georgian and Russian Foreign Ministry and military officials began a final round of talks last week, however, the outcome was far from certain.


The negotiations were part of the broader effort to update the treaty governing conventional military forces in Europe.


Under the new accord, Russia will close two military bases in Georgia by mid-200l.


One is the Vaziani air base near Tbilisi, which has been a symbol of Russian influence near the Georgian capital and, according to the Georgians, a center of some Russian intrigues.


The other is the Gudauta base, which is located in the secessionist province of Abkhazia. The Georgians have long accused Russia of sympathizing with the Moslem rebels there and even providing them with aid.


The Russians will still be allowed to use their bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi. The Georgians fear the economic impact of closing the Russian base in Akhalkalaki, an ethnic Armenian area, because it is one of the region's main employers. And Georgians say that closing the base in Batumi could lead to instability there.


But Georgia's ultimate goal is to force the closure of those Russian bases as well.


The new accord will also require the Russians to reduce their weapons in Georgia. The most significant cut is in armored combat vehicles, which will be slashed to 241 from 481. The Georgians did not get everything they wanted.


They had hoped to get the Russians to accept the principle that their forces should not exceed those of the Georgia's own modest military, but eventually dropped that demand.


Still, given the anxiety about Russia's ambitions in the Caucasus, the accord was a welcome development.


"The Georgians basically got what they wanted," a U.S. official said.