Russia to keep 7,600 troops in 2 Georgia regions

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia will station nearly 8,000 troops in two breakaway Georgian provinces, officials said Tuesday, announcing an imposing long-term presence less than a day after agreeing to pull forces back from areas surrounding the provinces.

Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told President Dmitry Medvedev about 3,800 troops will each be based in South Ossetia and in Abkhazia - a far larger presence than before last month's war with Georgia.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that level of military staffing was needed to prevent Georgia from trying to regain control of the two regions, which Russia has recognized as independent.

In a goodwill gesture, Russia pulled troops back from a Georgian town outside Abkhazia on Tuesday, one of 24 positions in Georgia that officials say are still held by the Russians.

It was the first sign of Russia's promised pullback from posts outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgian television showed residents of Ganmukhuri rejoicing.

Georgian security council chief Alexander Lomaia said the Russians had maintained three or four armored personnel carriers and a few dozen troops at Ganmukhuri.

On Monday, Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy revised the European Union-brokered deal to end the fighting between Russia and Georgia, whose European and American allies have struggled to respond to Moscow's assertion of regional military clout.

"Russian troops will remain on the territory of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on request of their leaders in parliament," Lavrov said at a briefing. "They will remain there for a long time. Their presence there will be needed at least for the foreseeable future to prevent any relapses of aggressive actions."

Russia has established diplomatic relations with the two regions.

Lavrov said he and his counterparts in the two regions also worked out treaties that envisaged close military and other links.

"Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia will take all the necessary measures to avert threats to peace," Lavrov said. "They will provide all kinds of assistance to each other, including in the military field."

The deal with Sarkozy envisaged the deployment of at least 200 EU monitors in the area surrounding the two breakaway regions by next month. The deal obliges Russia to pull out of those regions in 10 days following the deployment of EU monitors.

Lavrov cast the deal, accompanied by the EU guarantees that Georgia would not use force against the two provinces, as a victory for Russia.

He said Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be represented at an international conference on security in the region in Geneva next month.

War erupted between Georgia and Russia erupted on Aug. 7 when Georgia launched an attack to regain control over South Ossetia. Russia sent in troops who quickly routed the Georgian forces and pushed deep into Georgia.