TBILISI (Reuters)–A senior parliamentary official said on Thursday the Georgian legislature will press President Eduard Shevardnadze to make Russia’start closing its military bases in the former Soviet republic.
"We have to start talks about a pullout of two Russian bases," the head of parliament’s military and security committee Revaz Adamia told Reuters.
Adamia blamed Russia for using the two bases – one near the capital Tbilisi and another in the breakaway region of Abkhazia–to destabilize the political situation in Georgia and help separatists. Russia has two other military bases in Georgia.
He also accused Russian troops in the country of peddling weapons and said Moscow had failed to live up to an agreement to help Georgia restore control over Abkhazia–a condition of keeping the bases on its soil.
"We have information that the Tbilisi base is heavily involved in the arms trade," he said.
Russia had refused to pay Georgia rent for the bases or even pay for electricity or water–he added.
"It is time now to become harder with Russia. Either they should fulfill their obligations–or get out," he said–speaking in English.
Adamia said two other Russian bases–one in the autonomous Adzharia region and another in a mostly ethnic Armenian section of the country–could stay for now as their exit could stoke ethnic and political tensions in those areas.
He made it clear–however–that they too would have to leave eventually.
President Shevardnadze has trod carefully on the bases issue–not wanting to aggravate already tense relations with Russia.
The presence of the bases–where Adamia said around 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers were located–is deeply unpopular in parliament and with many ordinary Georgians.
Shevardnadze and his centrist Citizens Union party–facing a tough parliamentary vote later this year and a presidential election in 2000–are unlikely to try to stave off a concerted drive to get rid of the bases–analysts say.