MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has started to withdraw troops from the conflict zone in Georgia in accordance with a French-brokered peace plan, a senior Russian defence official said on Monday.
Under the peace deal, Russia and Georgia agreed to pull their forces back to positions held before this month’s outbreak of violence over Georgia’s separatist region of South Ossetia.
Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian military’s General Staff, told reporters Russian forces started to withdraw from the conflict zone earlier in the day.
“Russia has finished the operation on halting Georgia’s aggression against South Ossetia,” he told a daily official briefing. “The pull-out of peacekeeping forces started today.”
He denied a newspaper report that Russia had used its Tochka-U short-range tactical-ballistic missiles -- also known as the SS-21 -- during the 10-day conflict.
“(It) is used during attacks against large-scale sites and there was no point using it here,” he said.
Nogovitsyn said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin met the U.S. ambassador to Russia earlier on Monday to discuss the pullout and other details.
“We agreed on further cooperation, on the position of both sides, from the troops’ pullout to humanitarian efforts,” Nogovitsyn said.
He accused Georgia’s forces of preparing acts of “provocation” against Russian troops in the conflict zone, saying Moscow had evidence they had attempted to blow up the Roki tunnel -- the main crossing point for Russian troops into Georgia.
Months of tension between Georgia and Russia erupted on August 7 when Tbilisi launched an assault to retake its breakaway province of South Ossetia. Moscow responded by crushing Georgian forces.
Russian forces pushed beyond South Ossetia, and a second breakaway region of Abkhazia, taking up positions deep inside Georgian territory.
Reporting by Christian Lowe; Writing by Maria Golovnina, editing by Mary Gabriel