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Russia plans 7,600 force in Georgia rebel regions - Double Previsous Nubmer  Ken Garen
 Sep 09, 2008 21:13 PDT 

Russia plans 7,600 force in Georgia rebel regions

Tue Sep 9, 2008 11:37am EDT

By Conor Sweeney and Oleg Shchedrov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia announced plans on Tuesday to station about 7,600
troops in Georgia's separatist regions, more than twice the number based
there before last month's war and a level likely to alarm the West.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said troops would stay in South
Ossetia and Abkhazia for a long time to prevent any "repeat of Georgian

Moscow's intervention in Georgia last month, in which its forces crushed an
attempt by Tbilisi to retake South Ossetia, drew widespread international
condemnation and prompted concern over the security of energy supplies.

Russia agreed on Monday to withdraw its soldiers from areas outside South
Ossetia, and the second breakaway region of Abkhazia, within a month, but
troops inside the two regions were not explicitly mentioned in the
French-brokered deal.

Briefing Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on talks with the separatist
leaders, Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said: "We have already agreed on
the contingent -- in the region of 3,800 men in each republic -- its
structure and location."

Russia angered the West last month by recognizing Abkhazia and South
Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's rule in separatist wars in the 1990s, as
independent states. Nicaragua is the only other state to have recognized
their independence.

Lavrov also met the two separatist regions' foreign ministers on Tuesday to
formally establish diplomatic ties, a step likely to further irritate
Western governments.

Asked at a news conference how long Russian forces would stay in South
Ossetia and Abkhazia, Lavrov said: "They will be there for a long time, at
least for the foreseeable period. That is necessary to not allow a repeat of
Georgian aggression."


Russia has said it was morally obliged to send in its military last month to
prevent what it called a genocide in the separatist regions by an aggressive
Georgian government.

Before fighting broke out in Georgia last month, Russia had a peacekeeping
force of 1,000 servicemen in South Ossetia and a contingent of about 2,500
in Abkhazia. They were operating under a peacekeeping mandate dating back to
the 1990s.

Russia has welcomed the European Union's role as a mediator over Georgia but
in sharp contrast, it has accused the United States of contributing to the
conflict by arming Georgia and failing to rein in its leadership.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said the White House's decision to rescind a draft
agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia was "mistaken and

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who visited Georgia last week to show
solidarity with the ex-Soviet state, said in Rome on Tuesday that the
international community was united in deploring Russia's military action.


Both the European Union and the United States have warned Russia it could
face serious consequences over its actions in Georgia, but the scope for
punitive measures is limited.

Europe depends on Russia for more than a quarter of its gas supplies and
Washington needs Russia's cooperation in efforts to curb Iran's nuclear

After four hours of talks outside Moscow on Monday, Medvedev and EU leaders
led by French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed that Russian forces in buffer
zones outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia would pull back within a month.

They are to be replaced with an international monitoring force which will
include a 200-strong EU contingent.

Questions remain about Russia's dominant role inside the two separatist
regions, where most residents hold Russian passports.

The fighting in Georgia worried energy markets because it was waged near the
route of an oil pipeline that can pump up to 1 million barrels of crude per
day from the Caspian Sea. The pipeline is favored by the West because it
bypasses Russia.

The International Court of Justice in the Hague, the highest United Nations
court, this week began hearing Georgian allegations that Russian violated
the human rights of ethnic Georgians in the separatist regions.

Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian military's General Staff,
said Russia had nothing to hide.

"At this trial, our position is calm and dignified," he told foreign
military attachees. "I am firmly convinced that the Russian Federation took
the only right decision."

C Thomson Reuters 2008 All rights reserved

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