Georgia on Tuesday flatly rejected Russian demands that it pay several hundred million dollars (euros) in compensation for Moscow withdrawing from two Soviet-era military bases in the Caucasus mountain country. Talks on the issue between the two sides are at a standstill and the atmosphere soured further Tuesday when Moscow protested at Tbilisi's refusal to allow a Russian radar plane into its airspace, saying it violated Georgia's commitments under a regional air defense system. "Georgia has no intention of paying any form of compensation for the withdrawal of the Russian military bases," Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli told reporters. Georgia, where a pro-West leadership took power last year, is keen to assert its independence and has been pushing Moscow to hand back the bases within two years. Russia has said it needs at least three to four years, perhaps even a decade, to complete the pullout and is also demanding compensation. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said last month the cost of withdrawing from the military installations would be US$250 million to US$300 million (€195 million to €234 million). The head of Russia's main air force headquarters, Col.-Gen. Boris Cheltsov, meanwhile, complained that Georgia had refused permission for a flight by a Russian radar plane through its territory. "Unfortunately, we wanted to fly it to Armenia but the Georgians wouldn't let us through their airspace," he said in remarks broadcast on Russian state television. The aircraft was to have performed reconnaissance missions during maneuvers by the CIS, or Commonwealth of Independent States, joint air defense system. Russian observers have said that Moscow is concerned that pulling out all its forces from Georgia could jeopardize its base in neighboring Armenia, one of Moscow's closest allies in the region. Armenia does not share a border with Russia and all Russian equipment and personnel have to transit Georgian territory to get there.
MISHA DZHINDZHIKHASHVILII, Associated Press Writer