MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia denied it had violated an internationally-brokered agreement to close down a military base in Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region by July 1 and said Georgia must help make its troop withdrawal possible.
Georgian officials dismissed the explanation–and said they would continue to press Moscow to withdraw from the Black Sea base as promised–making their case to international organizations.
"The military base of Gudauta has been disbanded–but the withdrawal of personnel and the remnants of materiel is being blocked by the local population," Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It called on Georgia to respect an obligation to create "conditions for the safe completion of the withdrawal of the Russian military base in Gudauta," and said Georgia had ignored Moscow’s request to post a Russian team to guard the base.
"Since no reply to the above-mentioned proposal had come from Tbilisi by the agreed deadline (July 1)–no documentary hand-over of the base facilities took place," it added. However–Georgian officials said they were unconvinced by the Russian explanations.
"Russia’s statemen’s that people in Gudauta are preventing them from closing this base–are just an excuse. We don’t accept that," the Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze stated.
Kakha Imnadze–spokesman for Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze–said Georgia was ready to continue bilateral and multilateral negotiations until the base is closed. The Gudauta base is located in territory that has been outside the control of the Tbilisi government since Abkhazian secessionist forces drove out Georgian troops and hundreds of thousands of Georgian civilians in a 1992-93 war.
A second Russian base–near the Georgian capital Tbilisi–was fully evacuated by the Sunday deadline.
Georgia has accused Russia of assisting the Abkhazian separatist fighters–who took up arms against Tbilisi shortly after the former Soviet republic gained its independence.
Russia has security concerns in Georgia and says it needs 14 more years to close two other bases in the country. However Western-oriented Georgia–with aspirations to join NATO–has accused its mighty neighbor of foot-dragging and is pressing for the withdrawal of all Russian forces as soon as possible.