Russia defends military buildup in Caucasus

VIENNA

Russia defended its military buildup in Georgia’s breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Thursday, disputing claims it is violating cease-fire agreements.

Earlier this week, Georgia officials in Washington warned that Russia has been building military bases, storage facilities for supplies and roads in the regions since the two countries fought a war last August. Georgia also says the Kremlin maintains 6,000 Russian troops in each territory in violation of a cease-fire that ended the five-day conflict. 

“We are establishing bases — but on the invitation of these countries,” Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin said. “This is totally legitimate and is being supported by the population of the republics.”

Following the conflict, Moscow recognized both regions as independent and is insisting the international community do the same.

Karasin, speaking at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, added the United States has established “similar bases” in Romania and Bulgaria, and that Russian guards stationed along the South Ossetian and Abkhazian borders were there to “improve things.”

“There’s a question of narcotics, contraband, of arms, organized crime,” Karasin said.

In other comments, Karasin reiterated that Moscow wanted international observers in the region but that this could only be achieved if For months, the Vienna-based OSCE has been struggling to salvage its 16-year-old Georgia mission after Moscow blocked the extension of its mandate late last year. As a result, it will be forced to shut down by June 30 if no compromise is reached.

Kyle Scott, Washington’s envoy to the OSCE, said he regretted that Russia had so far made it “impossible” to achieve consensus on extending the mission’s mandate.

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