Russian troops leave disputed Georgian village


Russian troops have pulled back from a disputed Georgian village on the de facto border with breakaway South Ossetia, a Georgian police said today.

Tbilisi had said the Russian presence in Perevi was a violation of the ceasefire brokered after their five-day war in August, when Russia intervened in its ex-Soviet neighbour to halt a Georgian military assault on pro-Russian South Ossetia.

"They completely dismantled the checkpoint and crossed the border," a Georgian regional police official told Reuters. "There are no Russians in Perevi anymore."

Russian forces in October pulled back from a buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia, but kept soldiers in Perevi, which sits on the Georgian side of the de facto border with the breakaway territory.

They began pulling out of the village in November, only to return when dozens of South Ossetian security forces tried to take the position for themselves.

There was no sign of South Ossetian security forces today. A spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry confirmed the Russian forces had begun dismantling their checkpoint on Thursday.

The boundary zone remains tense, however, with frequent reports of Georgian police and South Ossetian security forces trading fire.

In an interview published today, Russia's defence minister said his nation's ties with Nato will remain strained as long as Ukrainian and Georgian membership of the alliance remain on the agenda.

"We stand for a serious, constructive dialogue with the alliance," Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told Finland's National Defence Journal. "But if someone hopes we will compliantly watch a military armada being built at our borders, with our national security interests being ignored, then we will have to upset someone".

Mr Serdyukov said Moscow was worried by "the stubborn persistence of some alliance members, in particular the United States, to drag Ukraine and Georgia into Nato, no matter what".

The Kremlin accuses Washington of using Nato expansion - in particular long-term plans to bring in ex-Soviet vassals Ukraine and Georgia - to encircle Russia with hostile armies and draw new dividing lines in Europe.