Russia: August 3, 2002

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Observers in Moscow consider it an open secret that the Georgian government is intensely eager to leverage the Pankisi Gorge problem into a solution for their Abkhaz problem. If the Russians want cooperation dealing with rebels hiding in the Pankisi, the Georgians expect cooperation dealing with breakaway Abkhazia. Experience shows that the ongoing war of words will get worse, until the presidents of the two countries get involved. 

Georgian intelligence claims that more Russian peacekeeping units and "volunteers" (Cossacks and others from North Caucasus republics) have moved into Abkhazia within the past few weeks. Moscow is also accused of selling additional weapons to the Abkhazians, under the table. Abkhaz authorities reported a rumor that a group of 20 Chechen and Arab rebels had moved from the Pankisi gorge at the end of July and was seen in the upper reaches of the Kodori gorge, near the border with Russia (which the Georgians denied).

On 22 July, the Georgian State Border Guard Department press service told the press that they were not going to leave the Kodori gorge. The Kodori detachment mainly consists of local residents trained by regular instructors. Since they aren't regular units, Tblisi feels Russian and Abkhaz complaints about the guards' presence are groundless. The Abkhaz Defense Ministry accused Georgian Border Guards of 'invading' Abkhaz territory on 1 August, while the Georgians blamed unnamed terrorists for two houses being blown up in the Abkhaz village of Tsarche. - Adam Geibel

CHECHEN REFUGEES IN THE PANKISI VALLEY, online at 
http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/culture/articles/eav061502.shtml


Some Georgian politicians see the recent talk in Russian political circles about launching precision strikes on rebels in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge as, for all intents and purposes, a call for a declaration of war against Georgia. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin had told the press on 31 July that all responsibility for the recent rebel invasion rests with the Georgian authorities. Even the pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister chimed in, suggesting that Russian forces should eliminate rebels planning to cross into Chechnya, if Georgian units couldn't handle the task. Calmer voices in Moscow noted that if Georgia cannot remove the rebels from the Pankisi, they will have to ask the international community to act instead. 

Georgia's Security Council met on 1 August to discuss the situation, although no details filtered out to the press. Georgian spokesmen noted that they were ready to cooperate with all countries (including Russia) as an equal on all issues, including the fight against terror. The United States warned Moscow against violations of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity on 31 July, while remaining in contact with both sides.

The US-trained anti-terrorist units are still months away from being deployable. The first stage of the US training program in Georgia ended on 2 August, with the conclusion of a command post exercise. The next stage is a field exercise for the first out of four special purpose battalions to be trained by the US. The exercise will start on 27 August. 

After five days of fighting in Chechnya's Itum-Kale district, the Federal Security Service claimed that nearly all the 60 rebels in the two groups that had recently infiltrated from Georgia had been killed. Federal units in the area captured five portable anti-aircraft systems, five portable grenade launchers, several under-barrel grenade launchers, machine guns, several sniper rifles, four assault rifles, two pistols and about 1,000 rounds of ammunition. 

Six Russian special operations were executed in the Nozhai-Yurt, Vedeno and Urus-Martan districts on 1 August, with three rebels killed and 25 people were detained on suspicion of involvement in "bandit activity". They seized eight small-arms, four artillery shells, four grenade launchers, 112 hand grenades, 2.4kg of explosives and some 15,000 small-arms cartridges

While the recent rebel infiltration attempts seemed to have ended in defeat, it cost the Russians some casualties: eight Federal Border Guard Service were killed and five wounded in the Itum- Kale's Kerigo gorge, while nine sappers were wounded by a command detonated bomb during a road-clearing operation.

The threat has not disappeared. On 2 August, the Federal Border Guard Service claimed that a group of nearly 160 rebels on Georgian territory are preparing to cross into Chechnya. - Adam Geibel


 

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