Russia promised to withdraw most forces from deep inside Georgia, but was set to retain a military presence in two separatist regions and a buffer zone. Troops will need 10 days for a full withdrawal, a commander said.
Russians are now said to be pulling out of Gori
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov announced the pullout two weeks after tanks and troops poured into South Ossetia to repel an attempt by Georgia's army to seize back control of the Moscow-backed breakaway region.
"On Friday, August 22, at 6:00 a.m. local time, all Russian forces will begin their withdrawal from Georgian territory to South Ossetia," Serdyukov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. "Over the course of August 22, the retreat... will be completed."
However, Serdyukov said only advance troops posted deep inside Georgia would be affected -- not soldiers and heavy equipment in Georgia's rebel South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions.
A senior Russian commander has said a full withdrawal of regular Russian forces back into home territory would require over a week.
"They will require around 10 days to leave their current positions," ITAR-TASS quoted General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of Russian ground forces in the region, as saying.
AP news agency is reporting that while some tank columns have been rolling northwards home, some Russian forces have dug trenches and built long-term fortifications in key areas of Georgia.
It was not immediately clear how the timetable announced by the general would square with a previous Russian commitment to pull back its forces to behind a buffer zone around South Ossetia by late Friday.
German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said dialogue with Russia has to be reopened after its troops are back on Russian soil. However, in the interview with German public broadcaster ARD on Friday, he added that Moscow's use of force in Georgia was "fully disproportionate" to the severity of the situation.
Buffer zone a point of contention
The Georgian President has rejected the idea of a buffer zone
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has promised that all but 500 Russian troops would be withdrawn from Georgia by then.
Moscow said those remaining troops would be stationed in what it termed as "zone of responsibility" as part of a peacekeeping operation to protect South Ossetia. This would leave Russian troops present inside the Georgian heartland and close to its economically vital east-west highway. Boldryev made no reference those 500 troops in his remarks.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has said he would not stand for their presence.
"There will be no buffer zones," he told Reuters news agency in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. "We will never live with any buffer zones. We'll never allow anything like this."
OSCE observers due Monday
Refugee camp for Georgians from South Ossetia and Gori
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has announced that twenty of its observers will be ready to start monitoring a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia from Monday.
"By Monday most of the equipment will be in place -- especially the armored vehicles -- we will have our staff here, we will have our operational center set up and we can start sending out monitors into various parts in Georgia and neighboring South Ossetia," said Alexander Stubb, the pan-European security organization's chairman.
His comments came while visiting a refugee camp on the outskirts of Tbilisi. He had earlier traveled through Russian-controlled checkpoints to the city of Gori where Russian troops were still present, deep inside Georgia.
Stubb, who is also the Finnish Foreign Minister, said he had witnessed "atrocious sights."
"There are Russian Interior Ministry special forces bringing old people from villages, basically emptying the villages on the South Ossetian side and dumping them in Gori," he told Reuters.
No agreement at Security Council
Russia late Thursday submitted a formal text to the UN Security Council aimed at ending the conflict in Georgia, but the United States and Britain said they were not ready to vote for it.
The 15-nation council also had a second draft resolution for consideration from France, the current president of the European Union, which called for the immediate and definite withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia, including South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a cease-fire and international negotiations to settle the issues between Georgia and Russia.
British Ambassador John Sawers told reporters following a two-hour closed-door discussion by the council that the body was not ready to adopt either the Russian or the French draft because of the unsettled conditions on the ground in Georgia.
"We do need to see real progress on the ground," Sawers said referring to demands for Russia to pull out of Georgia.