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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 15:49 GMT
Putin relaxed over Georgia's US forces
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, greets Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, 2nd right
Putin reproached Georgia for not informing Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the planned deployment of American forces in Georgia represented "no tragedy" for Russian interests.

The remarks came after Russian officials criticised Georgia for allowing up to 200 US troops into the country to train Georgian special forces.

George W Bush
Bush emphasised the troops would not be fighting
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze defended his decision to let US soldiers onto Georgian territory - traditionally seen by Russia as part of its sphere of influence.

Speaking at a summit of former Soviet states in Kazakhstan, Mr Shevardnadze said: "It has been no secret that the United States helped us form a border guard force.

"Now they seriously intend to create an anti-terrorist group. No other country was capable of doing that," he said.

Mr Putin, who has co-operated with the US in its war on terror after the 11 September attacks on America, said there was no reason why Georgia should not host the US troops.

"Why is it that what is possible in Central Asia should not be possible in Georgia?" the Russian leader said.

But Mr Putin reproached Georgia for not telling Moscow earlier about the US plans.

"In this case we knew nothing about it. The lack of understanding of what was taking place, I think, caused the kind of reaction it did," he said, referring to earlier criticism from Moscow.

Alarm bells

Five US military advisers arrived in Georgia on Wednesday.

US media reported that Washington was planning to send special troops to train and equip the Georgian army in anti-terrorist operations.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, warned that US presence in Georgia would only increase tensions in the volatile region.

His statement was echoed by other Russian officials, who warned that the new American plan would undermine Russian influence in the Caucasus.

Advisory role

The US has stepped in following reports that fighters allied with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network might have escaped to Georgia.

Chechen guerrillas
Allies of Al-Qaeda are said to be hiding in Georgia
But Washington has been keen to stress that any military aid to Georgia would be limited to training and equipment. No US troops would be directly involved in fighting.

US forces would have the right, however, to act in self-defence, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

Washington has already provided Georgia with at least six helicopters, which are not equipped for carrying out air attacks and will only be used to transport men and equipment, officials say.

Focus of attention

The focus of US attention is the remote Pankisi Gorge, close to Georgia's border with the Russian breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Washington is concerned that the Georgian authorities are unable to control the security situation there.

The US and Russia both believe that al-Qaeda suspects may be hiding in the gorge area, where militants who operate in Chechnya are also believed to be based.

Correspondents say the Americans are viewing the Georgian operation as a possible new front against global terrorism.

As well as the operations against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, US troops are actively involved in efforts by the Philippine Government to contain Muslim guerrillas that Washington believes to have links with al-Qaeda.

See also:

28 Feb 02 | Europe
US defends Georgia military plans
27 Feb 02 | Europe
US role in Georgia alarms Russia
31 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
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