Russia and Georgia finally completed an agreement that will end Russian military occupation of Georgian territory by 2008. Both governments have announced the successful conclusion of talks that were hastened by Georgian threats to declare Russian visas illegal:
Russia has agreed to withdraw its remaining troops from Georgia by 2008.
The deal was announced in Moscow by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after he held talks there with Georgian counterpart Salome Zurabishvili.
Mrs Zurabishvili called it an “important and constructive step”, and said Georgia had achieved its goal.
Russia currently has two Soviet-era bases in Georgia, whose continued presence has been a source of tension between Moscow and Tbilisi.
The two bases are home to about 3,000 troops.
This will make the Russian battles against separatists in the Caucasus more difficult. Georgia’s bases have Russia a strategic anvil in the south against which they could press from the north. It also kept Chechen rebels from escaping Russian efforts by slipping over the southern border, or at least it gave the Russians some ability to screen for that.
Georgia, on the other hand, not only throws off the last vestiges of Russian/Soviet colonialism but also becomes more of a bystander in the Caucasus. The hard line of Vladimir Putin in the region threatens to set fire to the various ethnic segments. Georgia doesn’t need the headaches that come with “hosting” Russian regiments that will undoubtedly be targets for various kinds of terrorism and insurgent attacks.
Putin, however, rarely gives away the store, even when he has little choice. One has to wonder what Georgia promised in return for the Russian departure.