Russia is not complying with the cease-fire that ended last year's war with Georgia, a US defense official said on Tuesday, adding that Washington wants international observers in Russian-controlled territories.
The statement by US Assistant Defense Secretary Alexander Vershbow underlined one of the touchiest disputes overshadowing the US and Russian leadership's desire for improved relations. Two Georgian territories broke off in the August 2008 war and now host thousands of Russian troops. Russia recognizes the regions as independent and says that independence supersedes the cease-fire brokered by the European Union. The EU cease-fire had demanded that troops be pulled back to prewar positions and allowed international observers into the conflict zone.
European Union monitors are deployed in Georgia, but not in the two breakaway territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which only Nicaragua and Venezuela have followed Russia by recognizing as independent.
"We do have concerns about the lack of full compliance by Russia with some elements of the August 2008 cease-fire agreement," Vershbow said after meeting with Georgian officials. "We discussed these issues with Russia. We are also trying to find ways to put international eyes and ears, an international presence, back into the occupied territories in order to contribute to a de-escalation of tensions," he said.
There have been sporadic reports of shootings and explosions in the border areas.
Since the war, Russia has repeatedly complained about US military assistance to Georgia, saying this rewards an aggressor. Russia also vehemently objects to Georgia's push to eventually join NATO.
Vershbow defended the assistance and Georgia's ambitions to join the Western military alliance.
"We are working together with our Georgian friends on a long-term program of assistance to Georgia's efforts to carry out its defense reforms and defense modernization and to ultimately improve its candidacy as a prospective member of NATO," he said. Last year's five-day war started with a Georgian artillery barrage on the capital of South Ossetia. Georgia claims it was forced to launch the assault after Russia sent military columns into South Ossetia.
An EU-commissioned report concluded last month that Georgia began the war, but criticized Russia for years of provocations and rising tensions.
The Russian military quickly occupied large regions of Georgia during the war and damaged much of Georgia's military before later withdrawing.