MOSCOW, May 30 (RIA Novosti) - The withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Georgia will be completed within 2008, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said following the talks with his Georgian counterpart Salome Zurabishvili. The ministers signed a joint statement regulating bilateral relations after their talks in Moscow. "The withdrawal of the Russian military bases from Akhalkalaki and Batumi is the key issue of the statement," Lavrov said. "Military hardware and personnel will be withdrawn at first. After that, Russia will hand its military facilities to Georgia," he added. There are two Russian military bases in Georgia today - in Batumi (Adzharia) and Akhalkalaki (on the Georgian-Armenian border).
The decision on their pullout was made at the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) summit in Istanbul in 1999. The pullout terms became a stumbling block in Russian-Georgian relations. The Russian Defense Ministry planned to withdraw troops no sooner than in 3-4 years. The Georgian side insisted that it should be done by January 1, 2008.