Russia and Georgia to Hold Talks over Bases by End of Month

MOSCOW (AFP)–Georgia said Friday that it was close to resolving the thorny issue of Russian military bases on its territory with Moscow.

"The issue is practically resolved," Georgy Khaindrava–Georgia’s minister for conflict resolution–said on a visit to Moscow.

"We are working on the details and hope that a solution will be found before the end of May," he said in an interview with Moscow Echo radio.

The Georgian official said that the three-year time limit that Moscow has requested to withdraw its two bases–one in the mostly Armenian populated reagion of Javakhk–which Georgia inherited from Soviet times–was "reasonable."

The two nations have agreed to hold talks on the issue–which has strained relations between Moscow and Tbilisi for years–before the end of March.

Russia’s two bases remaining on Georgian territory are in the Akhalkalak region in the south and Batumi in the west.

"The bases are an anachronism… that dates to the Soviet times and were meant to protect the (Soviet) south," Khaindrava said Friday. "Today NATO and Turkey are not longer Russian enemies–so there is no longer an argument for their existence."

Last week–the Georgian parliament passed a resolution that gave Russia until January 1 to close the facilities–but Russia is insisting it will need at least three years to withdraw its equipment and troops.

In a joint statement signed by Russia and Georgia during a 1999 summit of member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Istanbul–Moscow agreed to close two of four military bases in Georgia and to present a timetable for closure of the remaining two.

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