Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW: Russia said it had completed troop withdrawal from Georgia, but the West has challenged the claim, setting the stage for a new standoff with Moscow.

Russia’s Defence Ministry said in a statement it had complied with the pullback set out in a France-brokered peace deal by 1550 GMT on Friday, leaving behind only Russian peacekeepers at several security checkpoints.

The U.S. and other Western nations insist that the peace deal calls for the withdrawal of all Russia military personnel from Georgia.

However, a Russian military spokesman said the presence of peacekeepers on Georgian territory was envisioned in a 1994 Russian-Georgian peacekeeping arrangement for South Ossetia. Moreover, the peace plan for the current conflict calls on Russia to “take additional security measures” till new international mechanisms have been put in place, the spokesman, Deputy Chief of the General Staff General Anatoly Notovitsyn told a press conference on Saturday. He said 272 Russian peacekeepers would stay in Georgia, 180 in South Ossetia, and just over 2400 in Abkhazia, the other breakaway territory of Georgia.

Naval buildup

General Nogovitsyn voiced concern over a NATO naval buildup in the Black Sea. The U.S., Germany, Spain and Poland have sent their warships to the region “under the pretext of delivering humanitarian aid to Georgia,” he said.

“NATO naval presence in the Black Sea is aggravating the situation in the region,” he said. Russian warships sent towards Georgia’s coast continued to “perform their peacekeeping mission” in the region. He said Russian troops continued to patrol the Georgian port of Poti where U.S. warships with humanitarian supplies are due to arrive on Sunday.

General Nogovitsyn accused Georgia of failure to fulfil the ceasefire agreement, saying that the Georgian military instead of returning to barracks were “concentrating in central Georgia preparing for new armed action.”

The Deputy Chief of the General Staff warned the U.S. against rebuilding Georgia’s military potential shattered by Russia during the five-day war.

“If the Pentagon acts on its promise to rearm the Georgian army we… will ask the [Kremlin] leadership to beef up our peacekeeping forces,” he said.