Russia is claiming the right to increase the number of troops it has in and around South Ossetia, where it is also establishing additional checkpoints in response to what it says is a "continued Georgian threat." VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report from Moscow.
Just hours before Russia was scheduled to withdraw its troops to a buffer zone in and around South Ossetia, the deputy head of Russia's General Staff, General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, told a Moscow news conference the situation in Georgia can hardly be described as stable. General Nogovitysn accused Georgia of concentrating its forces in preparation for renewed fighting, but based the claim on intelligence he said was four days old. There are no independent reports of Georgian troop concentrations.
General Nogovitsyn said there are more than 2,100 Russian peacekeepers in the South Ossetia region, adding that Moscow reserves the right to send more if necessary. Senior Kremlin officials, including President Dmitri Medvedev said on Thursday that all Russian troops would be withdrawn to a buffer zone around South Ossetia by late Friday.
Russia says peacekeeping operation will be permanent
General Nogovitsyn says the peacekeeping operation will be permanent and Russian check points are being engineered accordingly. The work, he says, is ongoing and involves official positions designed not for ambush, but for various peacekeeping operations.
Western news agencies offer a mixed assessment of the withdrawal from Georgia, with some reports indicating movement of Russian troops and heavy equipment north toward Russia, while others say some troops appear to be occupying strategic positions in Georgia. Independent Russian military analyst Alexander Khramchikhin told VOA Russia may not meet its own withdrawal deadline in Georgia.
Khramchikhin says he doubts whether the withdrawal will happen on time, if only because narrow roads in the area make quick movement of vehicles difficult.
US says Russian troops departing at 'snail's pace'
In Tbilisi Friday, U.S. General John Craddock, NATO's supreme allied commander said Russian troops are leaving Georgia at "a snail's pace." And the commander of Russian ground forces, General Vladimir Boldyrev, said Thursday it would take 10 days to complete the troop withdrawal from Georgia.
Meanwhile, the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Beyrle, gave his first major interview to Russian media since his arrival in Moscow early last month. The American envoy told the Kommersant newspaper the United States did not want to see a recourse to violence and force in Georgia and made that very, very clear to Georgian leaders. Beyrle also acknowledges that Russian peacekeepers responded legitimately, but having advanced onto Georgian soil, they called that country's territorial integrity into question. Commenting on the possible effect of the conflict on U.S.-Russian economic relations, Ambassador Beyrle said the United States supports Russian membership in the World Trade Organization, noting that a strong bilateral economic relationship can sometimes serve as a shock absorber when the political relationship experiences stresses and strains.
In another development, Russia's Central Bank announced Thursday that the country lost more than $16 billion in the week following the beginning of military operations in Georgia on August 8. Financial observers attribute the loss to nervous investors pulling capital from Russia during the war and to a recent improvement in the value of the U.S. dollar.