WASHINGTON – An irritated Bush administration accused Russia on Wednesday of trying to find excuses to keep thousands of troops in Georgia in violation of a cease-fire Russia signed with the former Soviet republic last month.
Using unusually blunt language, the State Department said it was well past time for Russia to withdraw most of its soldiers from Georgia's separatist areas of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. A spokesman demanded that Russia do so now.
"These guys are at every turn trying to wiggle out of a commitment they made and that their president put his name to," spokesman Sean McCormack said. "We've seen it since August and it continues. They need to get out of Georgia and they to stop finding excuses (not) to do that."
He said statements from Russian officials that Moscow intends to keep 3,800 troops in Abkhazia and 3,800 in South Ossetia were "quite concerning."
"That, of course, would be a violation of the cease-fire that they signed in August," McCormack said. "Russia and their government and troops need to abide by their commitments, bottom line." He said the presence of Russian troops in such numbers would also violate previous agreements that allowed Russia a maximum of only 1,500 peacekeepers in each region.
Russian forces continue to occupy its neighbor's territory weeks after last month's five-day war despite the French-brokered cease-fire signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Since then Russia has recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations over international condemnation.
Under a deal reached by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday, Russia pledged to withdraw its forces from those zones within a month, after unarmed European Union observers are deployed. But Russia said it would maintain 7,600 troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for the future.
Russia has made its withdrawal pledges contingent on guarantees that Georgia will not use force to try to regain control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.