Georgia Deman’s Rent Payment for Russian Bases

TBILISI (Reuters)–Ex-Soviet Georgia’s parliament demanded on Thursday that Moscow pay rent for the Russian army’s last two bases in the country–the latest move in a long-running tussle over Russian troops that Georgia wants to send home.

Deputy Finance Minister Lasha Zhvaniya said Russia owed more than $710 million in rent for the bases since the collapse of the Soviet Union–and more to clean up pollution caused by the soldiers.

Lawmakers gave President Eduard Shevardnadze three months to agree a deal with the Russian authorities. The Georgian demand would poke a large hole in Russia’s already overstretched $9.6 billion annual military budget.

Georgia has adopted a pro-Western policy since independence but its repeated deman’s for the Russian army to leave have gone unheeded–contrary to international convention and Russia’s own practice in other parts of the former communist bloc.

Russia closed two other bases in August 2001–but says it will be unable to withdraw its troops for more than a decade for logistical reasons. Observers say it is stalling to counter US influence in Georgia–where the US is training the army.

Parliament frequently raises the Russian troop issue at times when relations with Moscow are tense–as when Russia threatened in September to strike Chechen camps in Georgia. Moscow regularly accuses Tbilisi of sheltering rebels.

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