Russia and South Ossetia have signed an agreement on establishing a permanent Russian military base in the former Georgian republic, Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said on Wednesday.
The agreement was signed between Serdyukov and his South Ossetian counterpart Yury Tanayev who is on a working visit to Moscow.
"From now on, the status of our military base is changing. With the signing of this agreement, Russia assumes full responsibility for the protection of South Ossetia," Serdyukov said.
The agreement is for a 49-year term and can automatically be extended at 15-year intervals, Serdyukov said.
A similar agreement was signed in Moscow on February 17 with Abkhazia, another former Georgian republic.
Russia recognized the independence of the former Georgian republics in August 2008 after repelling Georgia's assault on South Ossetia in a five-day war. Only Nicaragua, Venezuela and the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru have followed suit.
The Russian defense minister said the situation along the South Ossetia border with Georgia remained tense and the threat of the use of force by Georgia persisted.
The military bases are expected to be accommodated in Gudauta, Abkhazia, and in South Ossetia's capital Tskhinvali. Each base is likely to host up to 1,700 servicemen, T-62 tanks, light armored vehicles, S-300 air defense systems and various aircraft.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed on Monday a law on ratifying treaties with the former Georgian republics on joint border protection. Under the deals, South Ossetia and Abkhazia delegate Russia the authority to secure their borders with Georgia.
Georgia has fiercely criticized the plans for the bases in its former republics, which it considers part of its territory.
Russia's military buildup in the region has also been condemned by the West for defying international law and contravening the internationally brokered ceasefire agreement signed by Russia and Georgia in the wake of their August 2008 conflict.
MOSCOW, April 7 (RIA Novosti)