Russia's defense minister says his country's forces have completed
their withdrawal from Georgia under a French-mediated cease-fire,
leaving only troops manning a security zone in the Caucasus country.
Minister Anatoly Serdyukov issued his statement Friday after journalists confirmed the departure of columns of trucks and armor heading north toward Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
A top Russian general in Moscow, General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, said the country's troops will maintain 18 checkpoints in a security zone around South Ossetia, which includes the airport near the town of Senaki.
But the extent of Russia's final withdrawal remains unclear, as Russian military officials say their troops will maintain checkpoints along Georgia's main east-west highway.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood confirmed that Russian forces have begun leaving Georgia. But he said that, without a doubt, the Russians are failing to adhere to the French-mediated cease-fire agreement. He cited the establishment of checkpoints and the security zone as violations.
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev had pledged to have the troops out by Friday evening. But Thursday, the top commander of Russia's land forces, General Vladimir Boldyrev, said his forces will need about 10 days to complete their withdrawal.
In Tbilisi, U.S. General John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander, told reporters the Russian departure from Georgia is proceeding at "a snail's pace."
U.S. President George Bush told Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili Thursday that the United States is looking for Russia to comply with the agreement to withdraw, and to end what Mr. Bush called Russia's "siege" of Georgia.
The Georgian move into South Ossetia earlier this month triggered a massive Russian military response, with Moscow sending scores of tanks and thousands of troops into Georgia.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.