Russia has deployed as many as 7,000 soldiers in the separatist region of South Ossetia, leading Georgia to suspect ``further provocations'' following a five-day war in August, a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman said.
Shota Utiashvili said Georgia has been monitoring ``suspicious movements'' by Russia's military in South Ossetia, the object of Georgia's war with Russia. ``Up to 2,000 soldiers have entered the region which, added to troops already in the area, make at least 7,000,'' he said by telephone today in the capital Tbilisi.
Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, from Georgia on Aug. 26. Only Nicaragua has followed suit. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sept. 8 that his decision to recognize the regions was ``final'' and ``irrevocable.'' Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the following day that Russia had agreed to deploy about 3,800 soldiers in each region.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied Georgia's claim of a Russian troop buildup. ``Russia has already announced that under its agreements on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, about 3,700 soldiers will be deployed on the territory of both republics,'' he said in comments broadcast on state television.
``This information is public; it was made available to everyone from the start, and any conjectures about these figures remain entirely on the conscience of those who expound them,'' Lavrov said.
A European Union-brokered cease-fire agreement that ended the fighting in Georgia requires Russia to remove its forces to their pre-conflict positions. Russia sent about 10,000 soldiers into Georgia during the fighting, according to state-run news service RIA Novosti.
Under a subsequent deal reached by Medvedev and his counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy of France, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, Russia agreed to withdraw its forces from ``Georgian territory outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia,'' Sarkozy said on Sept. 8. He said the agreement was ``the maximum we could get.''
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said on Oct. 20 that Russia had failed to meet its obligations under the cease-fire.
``The cease-fire accord negotiated by Sarkozy requires Russian armed forces to withdraw to their positions before the outbreak of hostilities,'' Fried said in Tbilisi. ``The Russians haven't done so. They're in compliance with some of it,'' he said, referring to the cease-fire.
To contact the reporter on this story: Helena Bedwell in Tbilisi firstname.lastname@example.org