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Work done, Russian military engineers leaving Abkhazia

By Temuri Kiguradze
Monday, July 28
Russian military engineers have finished repairs to Abkhazia’s railroads and preparing to leave the breakaway region within days.

The Russian Defense Ministry’s website invites Russian reporters to view the withdrawal of the railway troops, which a ministry spokesperson said would come at the beginning of August.

About four hundred unarmed Russian military engineers were sent into Abkhazia at the end of May to patch up the separatist region’s dilapidated railways, according to separatist leaders who said they requested the help. The unilateral deployment sparked strong protest from Tbilisi officials, who alleged that the engineers were preparing the ground for the full-scale annexation of Abkhazia.

“No one needs to deploy railway troops to another country’s territory unless a military invasion is being prepared,” Grigol Vashadze, a deputy foreign minister, said at the time.

Moscow said the engineers’ mission was purely humanitarian.

“There are no troops that can be considered a threat for Georgia in Abkhazia,” Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdukov told reporters last week. “There are only builders who will leave Abkhazia after the end of the repair works.”

The international community widely wrung its hands over the move. In a June statement, NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the deployment was “contributing to instability in what is already a volatile area” and did not “appear to have any legal basis.”

Russian media reports say the railway troops fixed up 54 kilometers of railway, repaired over 10 000 sleepers and restored eight bridges.

The head of the Abkhaz railway agency said the rest of the work would be done by his personnel.

Tbilisi sees nothing good in the departure of the railway troops.

“The withdrawing of Russian engineers from Abkhazia doesn’t mean the softening of Russia’s position towards Georgia. There is nothing to be happy about it. They have built the military infrastructure Russia needed in this Georgian region,” said Georgia’s top official for conflict issues, Temur Iakobashvili, in an interview with Russia’s Kommersant last week.