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Russia Sends Mixed Signals Over Military Presence in Georgia

Russia has said although it will withdraw the bulk of its troops from Georgia in coming days, it will maintain a military presence to protect South Ossetia. NPR correspondent Ivan Watson reports from Tbilisi.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, two reports from the war in Georgia. The first is from correspondent Ivan Watson of National Public Radio. Margaret Warner talked with him earlier this evening by phone from the Georgian capital.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Ivan Watson, thanks for being with us. The Russians say they're leaving, but they are sending mixed signals as to when. What have you been seeing on the ground?

  • IVAN WATSON, National Public Radio:

    Margaret, I haven't seen any sign of the Russians leaving. In fact, today I saw Russian troops on a hilltop on the road to Gori from the Georgian capital, and they were digging fresh trenches.

    I've traveled to the west of this country and back and just really seen no sign at all that the hundreds of Russian soldiers and armored vehicles that I've seen, even a battery of Russian artillery, no sign whatsoever that they're planning on packing up and going anytime soon.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    You mentioned trenches. Are you seeing evidence that the Russians are preparing to stay on in some parts of Georgia, even after what they call withdrawal?

  • IVAN WATSON:

    Well, we did see the Russian defense minister yesterday put up maps at a press conference in Moscow where they indicated where they were planning on putting up a perimeter to protect the region of South Ossetia, which now looks like it's going to be annexed to Russia, or at least never return to Georgian territory.

    And this perimeter that the Russians showed had Russian positions up to 10 miles into Georgia, even overlooking this very critical east-west highway that the Russians are blockading to this day.

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