Georgia doubts Russian troop withdrawal

But President Saakashvili suggests there's little Georgians can do about it but offer "passive resistance."

Saakashvili gestures 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Saakashvili gestures 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili told The Associated Press he does not believe Russia will fulfill its promise to withdraw from most of the country in the coming days. He also suggested there was little Georgians could do about it but offer "passive resistance." Saakashvili said Russia's army is thinning out its presence in some of the towns it occupies, but at the same time is seizing new territory in the former Soviet republic. "What we're seeing now is a clear regrouping and also, again, some kind of deception campaign, saying, 'Look, we're moving out,"' Saakashvili told the AP in an interview Wednesday at his office in the capital, Tbilisi. The Russians, he said, "are making fun of the world." Russia sent tanks and troops into its small Caucasus neighbor after Georgia launched a heavy artillery barrage Aug. 7 against the separatist, pro-Russian province of South Ossetia. Russian forces moved deep into Georgia and continue to hold positions as close as 50 kilometers from the capital. AP reporters saw a diminished Russian presence in one key Georgian town, Gori, on Wednesday, two days after Russia promised to begin a withdrawal. But there was no change in the Russian positions near the capital or in the extent of Russian control in swaths of Georgia. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told French President Nicolas Sarkozy by phone Tuesday that Russian troops would withdraw from most of Georgia by Friday - some to Russia, others to the breakaway region of South Ossetia and the security zone extending about 7 kilometers into Georgia along the South Ossetian border, according to the Kremlin. But Saakashvili said that while Russia is pulling troops in some places, "They are going around now and trying to grab new strategic areas in Georgia." With his military unable to mount real resistance, his country in a Russian chokehold and his international allies offering little beyond aid flights, diplomatic visits and rhetoric, Saakashvili finds himself with few real cards other than pleading for more help. "We still expect more" of the international community, he said. "We still believe this is not all, that this is just a beginning." If the Russian occupation stretches on, he suggested Georgians might begin peaceful protests and "passive resistance" in occupied areas. He noted one small protest held in the town of Igoeti on Tuesday, one of the few examples of such activities so far. Saakashvili also said Georgians will "hold hands together ... and they will reconstruct." There would be no violence, he predicted, so as not to give Russia an excuse for retaliation. Russia, he said, is "dreaming to turn my country into Chechnya, into some kind of insurgency warfare field where they go around and operate with brutal force." Georgians appeared to rally around Saakashvili's government during the fighting, but that could change in the coming months if the estimated 158,000 displaced people in Georgia don't return home, if the Russian occupation continues or if the economy plunges. Saakashvili said he was not concerned: "The last thing I'm worried about is about my political future right now." The popularity of his government, he said, "will depend on how we will perform, how well we rebuild."