TBILISI, Georgia – Almost 300 monitors from 22 EU nations were in place Monday to oversee Russia's promised troop withdrawal from the large swaths of Georgia it has occupied since a war in August.
But the troop withdrawal, which begins Wednesday, will not end tensions between Russia and Georgia or entirely mollify the West. Russia plans to keep some 8,000 troops in two separatist Georgian regions — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — whose independence Moscow has recognized despite international denunciation.
Georgia and its Western allies say that troop presence violates the cease-fire brokered for the EU by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which demands both sides pull troops back to positions held before the war broke out Aug. 7.
Russia had peacekeepers in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia before the war but not in such numbers.
The EU observers, whose mandate lasts until at least 2009, will be based in four semi-permanent locations, including the central city of Gori and the Black Sea port of Poti, key targets of Russian forces.
The unarmed observers will report on the Russian troop withdrawal — but it is unclear what steps, if any, they would take in the event of further violence.
Russia promises to withdraw thousands of its troops within 10 days of the Oct. 1 beginning of the EU monitoring mission.
As Russian troops move out and the EU monitors move in, Georgian police and civilian administrators are supposed to follow, reclaiming Georgian villages damaged in the war or by looting and marauding afterward. But Russia it says it will prevent the monitors from going into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where many Georgian villages were also destroyed.
Georgia has harshly denounced the barring of monitors as well as the Russian troop presence in the separatist regions.
Russia claims, however, the EU agreement allows it to station troops inside the separatist regions since it says they are now independent nations and no longer part of Georgia.