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Europe

EU, US Leaders Criticize Incomplete Russian Withdrawal

Despite a Friday deadline to completely withdraw from Georgia, Russian forces are reportedly still in key positions Saturday, prompting criticism from EU and US leaders.

A russian tank waits to cross a road block

Washinton and Paris say that the Russian withdrawal doesn't go far enough

Russian tanks and troops withdrew Friday, Aug. 22, from Georgian territory to let Georgian police regain control of the region.

"The pullback of Russian troops and units passed without incident and was completed on time," Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said in a statement, according to AFP news service. "Thus, the Russian side has fulfilled ist obligations."

The Georgian government confirmed Friday that Russia has pulled some troops out of key cities but is still manning checkpoints.

"It is not true that the withdrawal is complete," Georgian government spokesman Shota Utiashvili told reporters.

As a result, US President George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who currently holds the EU presidency, called on Russia to "continue and complete" its withdrawal from Georgia.

No compliance?

Bush speaking on the phone

Bush spoke with Sarkozy on the phone

"We are not seeing that they are in compliance right now," Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said in Crawford, Texas, where Bush is vacationing. "They have not completely withdrawn from areas considered undisputed territory. And they need to do that."

Bush spoke on the telephone with Sarkozy, who brokered the ceasefire agreement between Russia and Georgia on Aug. 11. But Russia has continued to position soldiers outside of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and deep into Georgian territory.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband also said that he was "deeply concerned" by Russia's failure to completely withdraw from Georgia.

Germany : Humanitarian aid essential

German government spokesman Thomas Steg on Saturday also said that Russia had apparently not completely withdrawn from Georgia.

"This is also in line with the assessment of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, whom German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke with today," he said.

Steg added that the German government expects Russia to immediately complete the withdrawal according to the six-point ceasefire plan that was also signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

This includes pulling troops back into positions before the conflict with Georgia erupted, clearing transportation ways between western and eastern Georgia and restoring complete freedom of movement.

"The German government expects that Russian troops will also withdraw from the zone south of South Ossetia and get replaced with an international mechanism as soon as possible," Steg said.

He also said that getting humanitarian help to Georgia and rebuilding regions destroyed by the war was of utmost importance.

Georgia wants international peacekeepers

Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili meanwhile called for international peacekeepers in the conflict zone around the country's two breakaway provinces, Georgian media reported.

"The preservation of Georgia's territorial integrity is impossible without an internationalization of the peacekeeping troops," Saakashvili said at a meeting of the country's national security council late Friday.

But the breakaway regions Abkhazia and South Ossetia are opposed to an international peacekeeping force, currently being discussed by the European Union.

Russian forces have retreated from the central Georgian city Gori, but continued to control access to the important Black Sea port Poti and other cities in western Georgia and Abkhazia, Saakashvili said.

Caught by surprise

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili covering his face with his hand

Saakashvili got more than he bargained for

Moscow said Friday that despite its withdrawal from central Georgia, its forces would remain in buffer zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Saakashvili admitted that he had been surprised by the scale of Russia's response despite his own warnings of Russia's aggression.

"I could not have imagined that it would be such a big invasion," he was quoted as saying.

Some analysts say Saakashvili provoked the Kremlin by attacking South Ossetia, which is under Russian protection.

Russia slams NATO presence

The Russian military on the other hand criticized the presence of NATO naval vessels in the Black Sea.

"NATO is enhancing its military presence on the Black Sea under the pretext of providing humanitarian aid," Deputy Chief of Staff Anatoly Nogovitsyn said, according to a report by the Interfax news agency. "This does not contribute to stability in the region," the colonel

general added.

The US destroyer USS McFaul is currently on its way to Georgia carrying aid supplies, passing the Bosphorus on Friday evening, accompanied by a Polish naval vessel. Two more US naval vessels are scheduled to pass the straits off Istanbul headed for the Georgian coast in the coming days.

Several other NATO naval vessels passed the straits into the Black Sea on Thursday on their way to a naval exercise off the coasts of NATO members Bulgaria and Romania in the western part of the sea. According to NATO, the exercise was planned more than a year ago.

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