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Rice Expects Russian Troops to Withdraw From Georgia

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2008 – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today she expects Russia, which reportedly signed a cease-fire deal with Georgia, will begin to withdraw its forces “expeditiously” from the former Soviet republic.

Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev today signed a French-brokered peace deal, a day after Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili endorsed the agreement, which includes a drawdown of troops to levels that existed before Russia invaded its neighbor last week, according to news reports.

“Now that President Medvedev has reportedly signed the cease-fire agreement, I assume that Russian forces are going to begin to withdraw expeditiously,” Rice told reporters today in Crawford, Texas, where she met with President Bush.

The agreement includes a limited mandate for Russian peacekeepers to maintain the same level of security presence it had in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia prior to the outbreak of hostilities. Sanctioned Russian peacekeepers in Georgia will be allowed to have limited patrols in a prescribed area within the zone of conflict. But they are barred from Georgian urban areas and highways, Rice said.

Bush today characterized the agreement as “an important development.”

“President Medvedev of Russia has now signed on to the terms of this agreement. And that's an important development; it's a hopeful step,” he told reporters this morning in Crawford.

Rice soon will travel to Brussels, Belgium, where she will meet with the foreign ministers of America’s NATO allies and European Union officials to “continue to rally the free world in the defense of a free Georgia,” the president said.

Fighting that began in South Ossetia last week broadened to include Russian attacks on other parts of the country, including Abkhazia, another heavily separatist region. Russia contends that the heavily pro-Moscow breakaway regions may not belong within Georgia’s borders in the future, a stance that Bush characterized as “a major issue.”

Echoing remarks by the president, Rice emphasized that Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected. “These regions … are within the internationally recognized boundaries of Georgia,” she said. “And there will have to be a negotiated solution on that basis.”

The situation already was tense when Russian tanks and troops on Aug. 8 crossed the border into South Ossetia, where they were aided by regional separatists. Clashes escalated a day later in and around Tskhinvali, South Ossetia’s capital, as Russian aircraft were reported to have bombed that city and mounted attacks later in Abkhazia and other Georgian areas, fueling fears that Moscow would attempt to depose the democratically elected government in Tblisi.

“We do want to send a strong message of support for Georgia,” Rice said. “Georgia is going to emerge from this, and … its infrastructure will be rebuilt.”

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