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Russia Rules Out Speedy Pullout from Georgia - 2004-01-14

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has ruled out speedy withdrawal of Russia soldiers from Georgia, saying the pullout would have to be carried out under a formal treaty.

Defense Minister Ivanov went on the defensive about Russia's remaining military presence in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, saying that a formal treaty would need to be signed before any kind of withdrawal could take place.

In televised comments from the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, where Mr. Ivanov was visiting Russian troops, he said that never again would Moscow's forces be pressured to withdraw in haste, as they were in East Germany in the early 1990s. Mr. Ivanov said that at that time, Russia was forced to dump its men in an empty, open field.

Mr. Ivanov said that before Russia can withdraw from its two remaining bases in Alkhankalaki and Batumi, new military settlements will need to be built for thousands of personnel. He emphasized that the Russian treasury will pay for such a withdrawal.

Tuesday, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lynn Pascoe said the United States was prepared to help defray the cost of a Russian pull-out, if it would help speed the process.

Georgia wants to see the Russian military withdraw within three years, but Russia says the process will take at least 10.

Mr. Ivanov said that the issue of a Russian withdrawal is under discussion with Georgia's interim administration, and the dialogue will continue once President-elect Mikhail Saakashvili is inaugurated later this month in Tbilisi.

Russia has long viewed Georgia as an area of strategic regional interest and is wary of U.S. influence in the region, following the fall of President Eduard Shevardnadze in December. His successor, President-elect Saakashvili, is a U.S. trained lawyer who advocates a pro-market and pro-western reform path for Georgia.