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Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 17:29 GMT 18:29 UK
Putin ups Georgia strike warnings
Georgian tanks in the Pankisi Gorge
Georgian forces have made few arrests
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned the United Nations that Russia will take necessary measures to defend itself if Georgia fails to deal with Chechen rebels on its territory.

In a letter to the Security Council, Mr Putin said Georgia had rejected numerous offers of Russian help to wipe out the rebels holed up in the Pankisi Gorge.

Vladimir Putin
Putin's warning is "his strongest yet"
He said Georgia's own military operations had failed to achieve tangible results, and he has told his armed forces to draw up plans themselves.

Mr Putin's comments follow weeks of mounting tension between the two countries over the activities of pro-Chechen rebels along the Russian-Georgian border.

The Georgian President, Eduard Shevardnadze, called Mr Putin's statement hasty and suggested talks with Moscow.

Mr Putin's statement was immediately labelled by many Russian politicians as an ultimatum to Georgia, according to correspondents.

The chairman of the parliamentary committee on international affairs, Dmitry Rogozin, said there would be no further warnings, but action.

Map of Georgia showing Pankisi gorge

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists that the military would submit to President Putin a list of targets within days.

However, the defence minister said, the attacks might not be necessary. This was seen as an indication of the political nature of the threat, says the BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov.

Moscow is sending a message, observers say, and not exactly to Georgia, but rather to the United States, Georgia's ally and benefactor.

Some believe it is Moscow's last-ditch attempt to stop Washington from attacking Iraq, where Russia has sizeable economic interests.

Terse letter

In his letter to world leaders, Mr Putin accused Georgia of violating UN anti-terrorism resolutions by allowing terrorists to operate freely on its territory.

He said the Georgian security sweep had not brought any concrete results because the militants knew about it in advance and relocated.

"If Georgia fails to take concrete steps to destroy the terrorists, and they continue to attack us from its territory, then Russia, in strict compliance with international law, will take adequate measures for averting the terrorist threat," the letter said.

Mr Putin's message coincided with US President George W Bush's key address to the United Nations outlining Washington's plans to unseat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime.

Tension

Russia has been fighting an intermittent war in the rebel republic since 1994.

Moscow has accused Georgia of allowing Chechen rebels to use the lawless gorge as a base for their fight against Russian armed forces.

Georgia says the situation in Pankisi is under control after its interior ministry sent over 1,000 troops into the region to flush out the separatists.

It says Russia has already carried out raids on the area, killing one person and injuring several.

Moscow denies any involvement in the attacks.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Chloe Arnold
"Georgian people are infuriated by Moscow's threat of attacks"
Russia Analyst, Oksana Antonenko
"Clearly Russia wants more action but Putin's warning is just a warning"
See also:

12 Sep 02 | Media reports
10 Sep 02 | Europe
02 Sep 02 | Europe
05 Aug 02 | Europe
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