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Sunday, 25 August, 2002, 19:59 GMT 20:59 UK
Analysis: Georgia's stand-off with Russia
Russian Mi-26 helicopter troop carrier similar to one which crashed in Chechnya
Russia is angry about military setbacks in Chechnya

Georgia's action in sending 1,000 soldiers into the Pankisi Gorge looks more like a hurried reaction to recent events in the area than a well thought-out military strategy.

Tbilisi, Moscow and Washington agreed some months ago that the Gorge had become a haven for rebels and those sought by the Americans and their allies in the "international war against terrorism".

Map of Georgia showing Pankisi Gorge

What they have not been able to agree on is a way of dealing with the problem.

At the root of this difficulty is Georgia's relationship with Russia.

Georgia was a reluctant member of the Soviet Union, and was one of the republics pushing hardest for independence in the years leading up to the collapse of the USSR at the end of 1991.

Tbilisi saw its newly-found independence under threat from Moscow when civil war broke out in the Georgian coastal region of Abkhazia in August 1992.

Most Georgians were forced to flee the region.

Russia sent troops to act as peacekeepers. But the Georgians accused them of siding with the Abkhaz.

Recent moves by Moscow to grant Russian citizenship to any Abkhaz who requests it seemed to confirm Georgia's mistrust of Moscow.


The situation around the Pankisi Gorge has been growing more intense in recent weeks.

Georgian checkpoint near border with Chechnya
Georgia's mountainous northern border is hard to patrol

Russia accused Georgia of ignoring the problem.

Georgia countered by inviting US military specialists to help train Georgian soldiers for anti-terrorist operations there.

Georgia's attitude was clear: Yes, there is a problem in the Pankisi Gorge; no, we don't want Russian help to deal with it.

Matters have grown more serious in the last few days.

On Friday, Georgia accused Russian jets of carrying out dawn bombing raids on sites near the Gorge.

The defence ministry in Moscow, and the Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, hotly denied that the action was carried out by Russian planes.

But it is quite possible that the action could have been carried out by Russian aircraft without the defence minister's knowledge.

Helicopter crash

Last Monday's tragic crash of an Mi-26 helicopter in Chechnya showed that.

Back in 1997, an order of the defence minister had forbidden Mi-26 helicopters from carrying troops. They were to carry only cargo.

One hundred and sixteen lives lost are testament to the extent to which the Russian military often ignores orders from on high.

On Saturday night, the Russians announced that eight of their border guards had been killed on the border with Georgia. This, too, added to the tension in the region.

Georgia may well have decided to push ahead with the deployment of its forces into the Pankisi Gorge for two reasons.

It may be partly because Tbilisi agrees that there is a problem which must be sorted out; but partly, also, to prevent Russia from using the excuse of Georgian inaction to take the law into its own hands in the Pankisi Gorge.

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