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Russia Announces Long Stay in Breakaway Georgian Areas


Russia says its troops will remain in South Ossetia and Abkhazia for a long time. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a Moscow news conference that Russian troops, not peacekeepers, will remain on the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to respond to what he referred to as any relapses of aggression. He says they will be there at the request of the presidents and parliaments of the two regions and also on the basis of a Russian presidential decree.

Lavrov says the troops will stay for a long time, at least for the foreseeable future. This, he says, is absolutely necessary to prevent repetition of aggressive actions by Georgia.

Speaking in Moscow at a briefing for President Dmitri Medvedev, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the country's presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia will total about 7,600 troops, 3,800 in each region.

Foreign Minister Lavrov says the responsibility for peace in the buffer zone around South Ossetia and Abkhazia is now in international hands.

He says the European Union is sending Georgian leadership a very clear signal that the burden of responsibility for peace in Abkhazia is now on the European Union as well as the OSCE and the United Nations. The Russian diplomat notes that any provocations by Georgia will be provocations against the European Union.

The presence of international observers was negotiated Monday during talks near Moscow by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili says the agreement is a step forward, but makes clear that South Ossetia and Abkhazia are inseparable parts of Georgia.

Russia has recognized them as independent nations and Foreign Minister Lavrov announced the establishment of diplomatic relations with the two breakaway republics. Russia is also seeking South Ossetian and Abkhaz participation at international talks in Geneva on resolution of the Georgian conflict.

The Georgian Minister for Reintegration, Temur Iakobashvili, rejects Russia's attempt to include the two regions at the negotiating table.

"This is absolutely unacceptable for Georgia," Iakobashvili said. "We are not going to talk to war criminals, and for us Kokoity [South Ossetian leader] is a war criminal, and they are not a side in this conflict; they are puppets on the Russian side and the Russians can well represent them with their diplomacy."

The president of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoity, and Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh were present last month in Moscow when the Russian parliament voted unanimously to recognize the independence of their regions. With the exception of Nicaragua, no other country has followed Russia's lead on recognition of the two breakaway regions.

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