IGOETI, Georgia – Russian forces pulled out of positions deep inside Georgia on Friday, two weeks after thousands of troops roared into the small Caucasian nation aboard hundreds of armored vehicles.
The movements came after Russia's defense minister said President Dmitry Medvedev had ordered a pullback and promised that Russian forces would withdraw to separatist regions and surrounding security zones by the day's end.
An armored column was seen moving away from a military base in western Georgia toward the border with the breakaway region of Abkhazia in the late afternoon.
Further east, Russian forces abandoned a checkpoint and roadside position at the village of Igoeti, just 30 miles from the Tbilisi and the closest Russian troops had come to the capital for any length of time.
Georgia's security council chief, Alexander Lomaia, said Russian forces also were leaving the strategic central city of Gori, which straddles the country's main east-west highway south of South Ossetia, the separatist region at the heart of this month's war between Russia and Georgia.
In the west, a column of 83 Russia tanks, APCs and trucks hauling artillery rolled away from the Senaki military base and toward the border with Abkhazia. Georgian police said the vehicles came from the base.
The warfare began when Georgia launched a barrage targeting South Ossetia, which claims independence and has Russian support. Russian forces quickly drove the Georgians back from the breakaway region and moved deep in to Georgia, taking control of major cities along the main highway from the Black Sea port of Poti in the west to Igoeti.
Western nations support Georgia, which is seeking NATO membership and have clamored for Russia to withdraw under a European Union-backed cease-fire deal signed by Medvedev and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili a week ago.
Medvedev promised this week that his forces would pull back to separatist regions and surrounding security zones by Friday, and his defense minister emphasize late Thursday that the pullback would be complete by the end of the day.
A top general said the bulk of Russian forces might not be out of Georgia for another 10 days, however.
There were still questions about the extent of the pullout.
Outside Poti, Russian troops were seen digging large trenches Friday morning near a bridge that provides the only access to the city. Five trucks, several armored personnel carriers and a helicopter were parked nearby. Another Russian position was seen in a wooded area outside the city.
It was not immediately clear whether those troops remained later in the day.
Poti is far from any zone that Russian troops could be allowed to be in under the cease-fire.