Russia’s president has said its forces will begin pulling out of Georgia from Monday afternoon, local time. Dmitri Medvedev made that promise in a phone call with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country currently holds the presidency of the European Union. Sarkozy said that if Russia failed to withdraw under the terms of the ceasefire agreement it would have “serious consequences” for Moscow’s ties with the EU.
The Russian military was expected to pull back from the Georgian heartland, but Moscow said it would establish a “security zone” around the separatist region of South Ossetia. The Russian frontline commander told reporters his soldiers are already on the move, but are maintaining positions around Gori to protect the military withdrawal. Gori is the city controlling the approach to South Ossetia and Georgia’s main east-west highway.
One Gori resident, who said she had fled the bombing of the city with her children, was pessimistic on her return. She said things had not really improved and added: “What is the difference where the children die – in the mountains or here?”
The streets of Gori have been virtually deserted since Russian forces took control, but people have now started to reappear seeking out aid workers who have arrived to provide food and medical assistance.