World News

Russian railway troops to quit Abkhazia in August

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will withdraw in early August around 400 soldiers sent to repair railways in Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia, Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

Georgia accused Russia in June of trying to annex the impoverished Black Sea region after Moscow sent unarmed soldiers to rebuild a railway in Abkhazia in late May. Russia said the deployment was humanitarian aid.

The railway troops became an extra irritant in Georgia’s strained ties with Russia, while the United States said it was dismayed by the deployment in the conflict zone and NATO demanded the soldiers leave the area.

“On July 29-30 solemn festivities (on ending repair works) will be held. Then the soldiers will head to their permanent bases (in Russia),” Defence Ministry spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky told Reuters.

“We said at the very beginning that we would be there for two months and would quit after implementing our task. This is one more confirmation that Russia makes good on its promises.”

Washington is making a diplomatic drive to bring Russia, Georgia and leaders of the separatist region of Akhazia together for peace talks in Berlin next week, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza told Reuters.

The West fears that rising tension between Russia and Georgia over the Moscow-backed rebel region could spiral into war, destabilizing the whole of the Caucasus, a key route for Caspian oil exports to Europe.

Last week the separatists rejected a five-power plan presented by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to ease tension in the region.

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Jon Boyle