Mikheil Saakashvili The Georgian President has struck a conciliatory tone towards Russia as Russian troops begin preparations to leave his country.

In a television address recorded for broadcast later on Monday, President Mikheil Saakashvili demanded Russia leave Georgian territory immediately, but also made a plea to mend fences.

“I appeal to you that after your armed forces leave Georgian territory, to start serious thinking and discussions about further negotiations, a further search for ways (to conduct) relations in order not to sow discord between our countries for good,” Mr Saakashvili said in the broadcast, which his press office made available in advance.

“Let’s not sow discord for future generations. I don’t appeal to your mercy but I appeal to your pragmatism and simple common sense. I think the time to make the right decisions has come.”

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared on Sunday that troops who stormed in after a failed Georgian attempt to retake the pro-Russian breakaway region of South Ossetia would begin pulling out around midday.

The 10-day confrontation has reportedly killed about 200 Georgians and dealt a blow to the Georgian military. It has damaged the country’s economy, disrupted road and rail links and drawn Western criticism of Mr Saakashvili’s handling of the crisis.

Mr Saakashvili’s softer tones towards Moscow contrast strongly with tough rhetoric both sides have used until now.

Each side has accused the other of attempted genocide.

Russia says some 1,600 people were killed in the initial Georgian shelling of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali while Georgia accuses Russian and irregular forces of levelling Georgian villages around Tskhinvali.

Russia’s withdrawal is due to go ahead under a six-point ceasefire plan brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, acting on behalf of the European Union.

The Russians have not set a deadline for its completion but say it depends on stability in Georgia.

The conflict has rattled the West, which draws oil and gas through pipelines across Georgian territory from the Caspian region, a route favoured because it bypasses Russia.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Mr Medvedev to withdraw troops quickly.

“This time I hope he means it,” she told NBC’s Meet the Press.

“The word of the Russian president needs to be upheld by his forces or people are going to begin to wonder if Russia can be trusted.”

Regional implications

Russian military analyst Pavel Felgengauer said hardliners in Moscow wanted the conflict to achieve Mr Saakashvili’s overthrow and the destruction of the Georgian army and would be disappointed with a lesser result.

Mr Felgengauer argued that the Georgian military, though it withdrew in the face of Russian advances, had escaped without serious casualties or materiel losses.

“For them (the hardliners), the strategic aim of the invasion was not achieved, so it was a defeat … This creates problems in Moscow.”

He said powerful businessmen were also dissatisfied by big losses incurred on financial markets following the invasion and the danger of Western sanctions denying them access to technology for urgently needed modernisation.

“They may not be against subduing the Georgians, but the question is, at what price?” he said.

Mr Felgengauer said Georgia could now reckon with increased US investment and support and a consequent strengthening of American influence and commitment in an area Moscow historically sees as its ‘backyard’.

The conflict began on August 7 when Georgia launched an attempt to retake South Ossetia, which broke with Tbilisi after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia struck back, pouring troops into South Ossetia and then occupying areas beyond the region, in the Georgian heartland.

The six-point peace plan sees their withdrawal from this ‘core Georgia’. International contacts are under way to decide on a peacekeeping force for South Ossetia itself, though, whatever Georgia’s objections, it is likely to contain many Russians.

Source-abc.net.au /Reuters

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