Russia agrees to pull out of key areas of Georgia

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia’s president pledged Monday to withdraw troops from key areas of Georgia after 200 European Union monitors deploy later this month as part of a revised cease-fire agreement. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili cautiously endorsed the deal, but insisted any final settlement with Russia must respect his country’s territorial integrity. He made clear he still considers the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia part of his country. “There is no way Georgia will ever give up a piece of its sovereignty, a piece of its territory,” Saakashvili said after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the latest deal. The short war between Georgia and Russia âÄî which began when Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia followed by Russia invading and routing Georgia’s military âÄî has turned into a critical event in the post-Cold War world as Russia asserts its new economic and military clout and the West struggles to respond. Georgia and Western nations have complained Russia failed to withdraw troops and follow through on other earlier pledges in an Aug. 12 cease-fire agreement. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said 200 European Union monitors would deploy to regions surrounding South Ossetia and Abkhazia by next month. After that, Russian troops would pull out of those regions by Oct. 11 to a line that preceded the last month’s fighting. He said Russian troops would pull out of the Black Sea port of Poti and nearby areas in the next seven days, but only if Georgia signed a pledge to not use force against Abkhazia. Georgia had complained that the presence of Russian troops in Poti âÄî located dozens of miles away from the fighting in South Ossetia âÄî was a blatant violation of the cease-fire. Sarkozy acknowledged that one of the sticking points of the talks was Russia’s recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent from Georgia. Both areas have had de facto independence since breaking away from Georgian government control in the early 1990s. “It is not up to Russia to recognize unilaterally the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. There are international rules. These should be respected,” Sarkozy said. Nicaragua was the only other country aside from Russia to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia’s independence. Medvedev said Russia would not revisit its decision. “Our decision is irrevocable. Two new states have come into existence,” Medvedev said. “This is a reality which all our partners, including our EU partners, will have to reckon with.” Sarkozy flew to the Georgian capital Tbilisi and met Saakashvili after conferring for more than four hours with Medvedev in Moscow in an effort to salvage the Aug. 12 cease-fire. Russian troops on Monday blocked international aid convoys and several European ambassadors from traveling to villages beyond Russian checkpoints in Georgia. Still, Russia’s pledge of troop withdrawal appeared to be a concession to international demands to fulfill promises made as part of the cease-fire deal last month. Following the announcement of the agreement, Medvedev lashed out at Saakashvili, a U.S. ally, saying he had received “a blessing, either in the form of a direct order or silent approval” from the United States to launch an “idiotic action” against South Ossetia. “People died and now all of Georgia must pay for that,” Medvedev said. Adding to the uncertainty of the situation was the stipulation that any Georgian forces remaining near the separatist regions return to their bases and barracks by Oct. 1 before a full Russian withdrawal could happen. The deal calls for international talks on refugees and the region’s stability as a whole to be held beginning Oct. 15 in Geneva. “I believe this accord is an accord that represents a maximum of what we could have done,” Sarkozy told reporters.