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Russia to Withdraw Troops From Buffer Zone in Georgia

Russia has agreed to withdraw its troops from controversial buffer zones it had set up around Georgia's breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports the announcement by the Russian president was made following talks with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

After talks with the French president near Moscow, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said all Russian troops will be withdrawn from areas of Georgia adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia to positions held before military action that began August 8.

Mr. Medvedev says the agreement is based on a guarantee the Georgia will not use force.

Mr. Sarkozy says he presented his Russian counterpart with a letter signed by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili stating he will comply with the demand. President Medvedev said Russian troops will be replaced with international observers. Following his visit to Russia, the French leader went to Tbilisi for talks with Georgian leaders.

The Kremlin leader says the withdrawal will take place within 10 days of the deployment of no less than 200 EU observers by October 1, 2008.

Mr. Medvedev said Russia has also agreed to pull out its forces within seven days along a line from Georgia's Black Sea port of Poti to the town of Senaki under the condition that Georgia will not use force against Abkhazia.

The Russian and French leaders also announced international discussions on the Georgian Conflict would be held in Geneva beginning October 15.

But both men expressed continued disagreement on Russia's recognition of Abkhaz and South Ossetian independence. Mr. Sarkozy said it is not up to Russia to unilaterally recognize the two breakaway regions, because there are established international procedures for recognition of new nations. Mr. Medvedev said the decision is irrevocable.

The Russian leader also accused other countries, including the United States of trying to renew Georgia's military potential, though he offered no evidence to back the claim.

President Sarkozy was accompanied by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The EU diplomatic team now presents the cease-fire plan to Georgian President Saakashvili in Tbilisi.

Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry says the Russian navy is planning joint naval exercises in the Atlantic with Venezuela this year.

Ministry Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko made the announcement at a Moscow news conference, saying the two countries will conduct joint maneuvers, search and rescue operations and communications training. He says Russian anti-submarine aircraft will also be temporarily based at a Venezuelan airport. Russian ships participating in the exercises are expected to include a heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser "The Peter the Great" and a large anti-submarine ship, The Admiral Chabanenko."

Nesterenko added that the fundamental agreement for the move was reached with top Venezuelan leaders long ago.

Nesterenko says the naval activities are not linked to the current situation in the Caucasus, nor aimed in any way at harming the interest of a third party.

Russian officials, however, have objected to the presence of NATO ships in the Black Sea and also to U.S. Navy ships docking in Georgian ports. Moscow says the American warships could be used to deliver weapons under the cover of humanitarian assistance.

U.S. officials reject such charges, saying since Russia's invasion the United States has provided nearly $38 million in humanitarian assistance to Georgia, including more than 1,200 tons of food and other relief supplies.