Georgia’s Interior Ministry reports that Russia has begun dismantling posts in the buffer zone between Georgia and the breakaway enclaves of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which has also been confirmed by a spokesman for the EU monitors entering the zone. European monitors began arriving last week and reported in a statement that operations so far have gone “smoothly.”
Under the terms of an agreement between the European Union and Russia, EU monitors would replace the Russian troops in the buffer zone established in the ceasefire after the brief August war between Russia and Georgia. As per the agreement, Russian troops are to leave before Saturday, and in his most recent statement Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said they were committed to complete their withdrawal by Friday.
But not everyone is convinced this is progressing smoothly. Buffer zone residents cite road construction by Russian forces as evidence they don’t intend to leave, though an EU spokesman insisted “there’s nothing wrong with improving a road.”
Likewise, Russian investigators have blamed Georgia for last week’s bombing in Tskhinvali, which killed seven Russian troops. The Georgian Interior Ministry denied any involvement in the attack, claiming rather that it was “a provocation with the aim of keeping Russian forces in Georgia.” At least one Russian newspaper is reportedly predicting the attack might be used to justify keeping troops in the buffer zone,
NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has publicly condemned the EU-Russia deal, complaining that it does not require Russian forces to leave South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which the West still recognizes as part of Georgia despite years of de facto independence. Russia has since signed a deal with both enclaves vowing to defend them from any future Georgian attacks.