August 18, 2008

The world awaited the promised start of a Russian pullout of combat troops from Georgia today, as a plan to retain Russian “peacekeepers” in the embattled Caucasus republic sparked new tension.

Western allies of President Mikheil Saakashvili further upped the pressure on Moscow to quit Georgia as Russian troops dug in less than half an hour’s drive from the capital Tbilisi.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured Saakashvili in Tbilisi that NATO remained ready to give membership to the ex-Soviet republic, as promised at a NATO summit in April, despite the conflict with Russia.

Separately, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on US television that Russia’s reputation was in “tatters”.

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