EU urges Russia to withdraw ‘extra’ troops from AbkhaziaJune 6th, 2008 - 12:58 am ICT by IANS
Brussels, June 5 (RIA Novosti) The European Parliament Thursday called for immediate withdrawal of some 300 Russian soldiers deployed recently in Georgia’s breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Russia announced at the weekend that it had deployed unarmed railroad troops in Abkhazia to help repair track in the Georgian separatist region, a move that Tbilisi denounced as an aggressive, accusing Moscow of preparing a beachhead for military intervention.
In a resolution, the EU assembly said Russia’s current peacekeeping mission in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict zone was no longer neutral and the terms of its deployment must be reviewed, also saying the European Union (EU) should send its own mission to Abkhazia to defuse tensions in the area.
“The Russian troops have lost their role of neutral and impartial peacekeepers,” the resolution said.
The resolution echoes Tuesday’s call by NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for Russia to withdraw its troops.
“This deployment is clearly in contravention of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. These forces should be withdrawn, and both Russia and Georgia should engage quickly in a high-level and open dialogue to de-escalate tensions,” he said.
“This deployment of Russian railroad forces does not appear to have any legal basis. It is not taking place in the context of the CIS peacekeeping mission, and it is against the express wishes of the Georgian government,” de Hoop Scheffer said.
In April, Russia’s then president Vladimir Putin called for closer ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway republic in Georgia, provoking fury from Tbilisi, which accused Moscow of trying to annex the regions.
Tensions between Russia and Georgia have been strained since Western-leaning President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in the South Caucasus country in early 2004.
The long-running row over the Georgian breakaway republics, along with Tbilisi’s plans to join NATO, have both been key factors in the dispute. In a recent development, Georgia accused Russia of shooting down an unmanned reconnaissance plane over Abkhazia April 20. Moscow denies involvement in the incident.
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU’s external relations commissioner, told Russian lawmakers Wednesday that Russia’s actions in Abkhazia could damage stability in the region. She said the EU would continue to support the territorial integrity of Georgia, and would also initiate steps to improve trust and promote dialogue between the sides.