Image: A Russian officer  shakes hands with an EU observer
Kazbek Basayev  /  AFP-Getty Images
A Russian officer shakes hands with an unidentified EU observer during their meeting in a Russian-controlled buffer zone on Wednesday.
updated 10/1/2008 3:14:36 PM ET 2008-10-01T19:14:36

European Union monitors began patrolling Georgian territory Wednesday and Russian troops allowed some of them into a buffer zone around the breakaway region of South Ossetia, despite earlier warnings from Moscow they would be blocked.

Russian peacekeepers had said Tuesday that none of the 300 observers would immediately be permitted to be in the buffer zone, raising concerns that Moscow was stalling on withdrawing its troops from Georgia as it promised to do after its war with Georgia in August.

But EU monitors — whose job is to observe the cease-fire and the Russian pullback — were quickly allowed to pass through Russian checkpoints Wednesday near two Georgian villages on the perimeter of Moscow's so-called "security zone."

"The situation is very calm," said Ivan Kukushkin, a smiling Russian officer in charge of the checkpoint near Kvenatkotsa.

Russia still plans to keep around 7,600 troops in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which the EU and U.S. consider violations of its cease-fire commitments, and has refused to allow the EU monitors inside the regions themselves.

No new Cold War
But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Wednesday that there are no ideological grounds for a new Cold War, or any other kind of war, with the United States, despite its war with Georgia, a strong U.S. ally.

At a news conference after talks with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero outside St. Petersburg, Russia, he said the Cold War was based on ideological differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

"We do not have such ideological differences around which a new cold or any other kind of war could start," Medvedev said.

In Georgia, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokeswoman confirmed the deployment of the European Union monitors was going smoothly and that they have been able to go "wherever they planned to go."

Russia and Georgia agreed to the EU observer mission as part of an updated cease-fire plan following the war, which ended with Russian and separatist forces in control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russians also dug in on other territory in Georgia.

The war began Aug. 7 when Georgian troops launched an offensive to regain control of South Ossetia. Russia sent troops, which quickly routed the Georgian military and pushed deep into Georgia.

Earlier looting described
Terrified residents in the village of Karaleti, which was devastated by weeks of looting by South Ossetian militia, said Wednesday EU monitors had come too late. Vitaly Shavishishvili, 24, and his relatives are now living in a cowshed after looters burned down their two-story house and stole two of their vehicles.

"We only count on ourselves," Shavishishvili said.

Zaira Mamagulashvili, 62, said that the looters burned more than 30 houses in the village and looted the local store, then blew it up with hand grenades.

"No one is in control. We are afraid of everyone," said Misha Sukhitashvili, another Karaleti resident. "A Russian soldier is the kind of guy who after he has a drink is capable of anything."

As part of the French-brokered cease-fire deal, Moscow agreed to withdraw its forces completely from areas outside of South Ossetia and Abkhazia within 10 days of the EU monitors' deployment — including from a roughly 4-mile buffer zone they have created southward from South Ossetia.

"The Russians gave us plans for dismantling their (check)points but didn't say when," EU mission director Hansjoerg Haber told reporters.

At the Russian checkpoint near the Georgian village of Kvenatkotsa, an armored personnel carrier was parked up the hill near camouflaged tents and there was no sign of any preparations for a Russian troop pullback.

But Medvedev said Moscow would withdraw from the security zones as promised.

"Russian peacekeepers will be fully withdrawn from Georgian territory within the established time frame, as determined in the agreement," Medvedev said after the meeting with Zapatero.

He clearly did not mean Russia would withdraw from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which it has recognized as independent and no longer considers parts of Georgia.

"Show the flag, be friendly, show confidence," Haber told monitors in Basaleti, about 12 miles north of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

The EU observers will be based in four semi-permanent locations, including the central city of Gori near South Ossetia and the Black Sea port of Poti, key targets of Russian forces.

Solana, who visited Georgia on Tuesday, expressed optimism that Moscow would pull its troops back in the promised time frame.

Russia's continued occupation of Georgian territory and its subsequent recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia has drawn strong condemnation from the West, which urged Moscow to respect Georgia's sovereignty.

Medvedev insisted Wednesday that the military action was necessary to repel the Georgian aggression and protect Russian citizens and peacekeepers in the region.

"We did the right thing," Medvedev said in the Kremlin after giving medals to soldiers who fought in the war. "We have shown that Russia can protect its citizens, that all other nations must reckon with it."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: EU monitors enter Georgia

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