Russia says troops can stay in Akhalgori
Russia's foreign minister on Saturday challenged criticism by his French counterpart that Russia had not fully complied with a ceasefire in Georgia, Russian news agencies reported.
Russia, which invaded Georgia in August as part of an operation to stop Tbilisi's attempt to retake South Ossetia, last week pulled troops out of a buffer zone surrounding the province to meet an October 10 deadline under a French-brokered peace plan, reported Reuters.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Friday he was sympathetic to Georgian claims that Russian troops should have left Akhalgori, a disputed pocket of South Ossetia that for years was de facto controlled by Tbilisi.
"Akhalgori is within South Ossetia's borders, so the (ceasefire) plan does not cover it," Russian news agencies quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying in Germany, where he met with Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Moscow has recognized South Ossetia and Georgia's other separatist province, Abkhazia, as independent and vowed to protect them. Tbilisi says Russia must withdraw its troops.
Talks on the future of the two breakaway regions are due to begin in Geneva on Oct 15.
Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake the pro-Russian rebel region of South Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's rule in 1991-92.
Russia responded with a counter-strike that drove the Georgian army out of South Ossetia. Moscow's troops then pushed further into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent further Georgian attacks. The West condemned Russia for a "disproportionate response" to Georgia's actions.