A man passes a destroyed house in the Georgian ethnic village of Tamarasheni, north of Tskhinvali, on Friday with the words “Glory of Russia” written on the wall.AP PHOTO
IGOETI, Georgia — Russian military convoys rolled out of three key positions in Georgia and headed toward Moscow-backed separatist regions Friday in a significant withdrawal two weeks after thousands of troops roared into the former Soviet republic.
In Moscow, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the pullback into separatist South Ossetia was finished late Friday — but the United States was less than impressed.
“(Russians) have without a doubt failed to live up to their obligations,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in Washington. “Establishing checkpoints, buffer zones are definitely not part of the agreement.”
President Bush, vacationing at his ranch in Texas, conferred with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the two agreed that Russia is not in compliance with the agreement Sarkozy helped negotiate, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
“Compliance means compliance with that plan,” he said. “We haven’t seen that yet. It’s my understanding that they have not completely withdrawn from areas considered undisputed territory, and they need to do that.”
Georgia’s state minister on reintegration, Temur Yakobashvili, told The Associated Press the formation of a buffer zone outside South Ossetia “is absolutely illegal.”
In western Georgia, a column of 83 tanks, APCs and trucks hauling artillery moved away from the Senaki military base north toward the border of Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region on Friday afternoon. Georgian police said the vehicles came from the base, which has been under Russian control for more than a week.
In central Georgia, at least 40 Russian military vehicles left the strategic crossroads city of Gori, heading north toward South Ossetia and Russia. Gori straddles the country’s main east-west highway south of South Ossetia, the separatist region at the heart of the fighting. After Russian forces left Gori, cranes began dismantling a Russian checkpoint.
An Associated Press reporter in Igoeti, meanwhile, confirmed that Russian forces had pulled up from their former checkpoints and roadside positions around the village.