GORI, Georgia (Reuters) - Russia has not fully complied with the terms of a cease-fire in Georgia, France’s foreign minister said on Friday, casting fresh doubt on whether frozen EU-Russia partnership talks will resume soon.
Russian soldiers and tanks pushed into Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and adjacent “buffer zones,” as part of a massive counter-strike in August to crush an attempt by Georgian forces to retake South Ossetia.
Moscow pulled out of the buffer zones this week, before an October 10 deadline set out in the French-brokered cease-fire. But Georgia says the Kremlin has not fully complied because Russian soldiers remain in the two separatist regions.
Asked in the Georgian town of Gori, near South Ossetia, if Russia had honoured the cease-fire deal, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters: “I think so, but partly.”
“This is not complete. This is not perfect. It’s just the beginning. This is not the end,” Kouchner, whose country holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said in a tent camp for Georgians displaced by the fighting.
After a tour of the buffer zone vacated this week by Russian forces — where human rights groups say hundreds of ethnic Georgian homes were wrecked after the cease-fire came into force — Kouchner took a swipe at the Russian military.
“It’s always very sad to see houses destroyed and people coming back and discovering their belongings in desperate state,” said Kouchner, speaking in English. “It was not a good march of the Russian army. Not at all.
In a statement released in Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana confirmed Russian forces had withdrawn from areas outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“This withdrawal will, we hope, allow internally displaced people to return to their homes and contribute to the normalisation of living conditions,” he said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said his country had done everything in its power to comply with the cease-fire. “I believe in this respect everything is developing all right,” he told reporters at a regional summit in Kyrgyzstan.
EU foreign ministers could decide next week whether to restart talks on a strategic partnership treaty with Russia that the 27-member bloc has put on hold until it is satisfied Russia has complied with the cease-fire deal.
Kouchner said he did not know if this would happen and pointed to differences among EU members. “Some are not in agreement. There are people supporting Russia, and there are people fighting against Russia,” he said.
Kouchner and EU observers will present the findings of his trip at a meeting of foreign ministers on Monday which will prepare a possible decision two days later by European leaders to restart the talks.
Moscow says it will keep a total of 7,600 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it has recognised as independent states, to protect them from further Georgia aggression.
The Kremlin said it was morally obliged to enter Georgia to prevent what it called a genocide by Georgian forces.
Western states said its response was disproportionate, but analysts say the European Union’s reaction has been tempered because Russia supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas and is a major trade and investment partner.
Diplomats in Brussels said some EU members, including Britain, Poland and the Baltic nations, favour waiting a while before resuming the partnership talks with Russia.
“Giving the green light is a very important moment in terms of the signal to Russia about how we feel about how things have ended up,” said one EU diplomat.