France, Russia at Odds over Content of Leaders’ Phone Talks

The French and Russian presidents have agreed to replace Russian forces in the so-called “buffer zone” outside South Ossetia with OSCE monitors, the French president’s press office said in a statement. The Kremlin has denied any such deal has been made.

French President Nikola Sarkozy spoke with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, on Saturday evening, August 23.

After the phone conversation, a statement was posted on the French president’s website, reading: “The two presidents have agreed on the need to set up an international mechanism under the OSCE aegis to replace Russian patrols in the security zone in the south from South Ossetia.”

The Kremlin, however, has denied reaching such an agreement, saying the issue wasn't even discussed.

“There was no discussion of the replacement of Russian peacekeeping forces with monitors from the OSCE,” Russian news agencies quoted a statement from the Kremlin. “During the conversation with Nikola Sarkozy, Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed [Russia’s] readiness to cooperate with the OSCE in this zone in accordance with the fifth principle of the [six-point ceasefire accord] developed jointly by the French and Russian presidents.”

Russia, which is trying to capitalize on a vaguely worded ceasefire accord brokered by the French president on behalf of the EU, has set up stationary checkpoints south of the breakaway region. One of the checkpoints is about five kilometers from the town of Gori, on the road to Tskhinvali.

The Kremlin also said that President Sarkozy “gave a positive assessment to the pull back” of Russian forces “within the timeframe announced by the Russian side.”

The French statement also notes that President Sarkozy “thanked President Medvedev for honoring the commitment concerning the withdrawal of Russian troops.”

In respect of areas adjacent to another breakaway region, Abkhazia, the French statement, however, says that Sarkozy urged Russia to withdraw troops from those areas, in particular from Poti and Senaki.

“President Sarkozy insisted it was important that Russian troops present in the Poti/Senaki area should withdraw as soon as possible,” the French statement reads.

[Source: Civil Georgian, Tbilisi, 24Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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