On August 15, the Russian military completed the first round of evacuation of combat hardware from Georgia. On that day, a convoy of wheeled combat and transport vehicles — the fifth overland convoy this year thus far — crossed the border at the Larsi checkpoint on the Georgia military road into Russia, bound for Vladikavkaz.
Also on August 15, two amphibious warfare ships of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet completed the unloading in Novorossiysk of heavy weaponry they had evacuated two days earlier from the Russian military base in Batumi. This consignment included 20 battle tanks of the T-72 type, five reconnaissance-patrol armored vehicles, 12 Kub surface-to-air missile launcher systems, and three Shilka self-propelled air defense systems. Bad weather had delayed this convoy’s departure from Batumi by several days.
Lt.-General Valery Yevnevich, deputy commander-in-chief of Russia’s Ground Forces, declared on August 15 that Russia has now fully implemented its pledge regarding evacuation of combat hardware from Georgia in 2005. The Russian military has thereby adhered to the timetable stipulated in the force-withdrawal agreement, signed on May 30 by Ministers of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov and Salome Zourabichvili. Under that detailed timetable, the Russian military had until September 1 to complete the first round of evacuation of combat hardware from the Batumi and Akhalkalaki bases. The withdrawal began officially in July, unofficially somewhat earlier.
Yevnevich, who is responsible for “peacekeeping” operations within Russia’s ground forces command, concurrently heads an ad-hoc staff in charge of the withdrawal from Georgia, working out of the Tbilisi-based Headquarters of Russia’s Group of Forces in the Trans-Caucasus. Georgia’s deputy chief of staff, Maj.-General Aleko Kiknadze, in charge of overseeing the Russian withdrawal, confirms that the Russian side is working constructively with the Georgians in organizing a smooth withdrawal. Two incidents in July, when Russian soldiers aboard tanks strayed from the Gonio testing range into the city of Batumi, were resolved quickly and amiably.
Under the terms of the May 30 agreement, the Russian military was to have handed over the Tbilisi repair plant for armored vehicles to the Georgian side by June 15. The Russians are to hand over the Zvezda and Kojori communications relay stations (in the environs of Tbilisi) to the Georgians by September 1; and some further installations, according to a mutually agreed list, by December 31, 2005.
(Rustavi-2 TV, Interfax, NTV Mir, August 13-15; see EDM, May 24, June 3, August 1)