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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgian Lawmakers Set Deadline for Bases

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia's parliament unanimously adopted a resolution Thursday urging the government to set a deadline for Russia to withdraw its two military bases from the country -- a move that raised the stakes in Georgia's long-simmering dispute with its giant northern neighbor.

In a 159-0 vote, lawmakers passed a resolution calling on Georgia's leadership to demand a Russian withdrawal by Jan. 1, 2006, unless an agreement setting a timetable for the pullout is reached by May 15.

The ultimatum also called for Georgia to force the bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki to shut down if Russia balks at a deal -- by refusing to issue visas to Russian military personnel and banning troops, vehicles and equipment from moving through Georgia.

The motion approved Thursday is a strong recommendation to Georgia's executive branch but does not have the force of law.

Hours before the vote, a senior Russian Defense Ministry official said the bases could be closed down within three to four years -- rather than in a dozen years or more as stated previously.

"This is the official position of the Defense Ministry and we will stick to it in the upcoming Russian-Georgian consultations," General Anatoly Mazurkevich was quoted by Itar-Tass as saying.

But State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov took a harder stance on timing and compensation.

"The Russian side wants the withdrawal to take longer and to be paid more," he said.

The Foreign Ministry warned on Wednesday that the Georgian parliamentary motion would provoke a "heated atmosphere" that would complicate efforts to reach a compromise over the bases.

In a nod to Moscow, President Mikheil Saakashvili's administration pressured lawmakers Wednesday to withdraw the resolution, which in its original form had set a deadline for agreement of May 1.

The deputy commander of Russia's forces in Georgia complained Thursday that Georgian authorities were stalling on a visa request by his new superior, General Alexander Bespalov, Interfax reported.

The issue of the bases is one of several that have soured relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, where a U.S.-backed government took power last year promising to work toward NATO membership. Until recently, Russia insisted it needed up to a dozen years or more to close the bases, and Georgia accused its former imperial master of deliberately dragging its feet.