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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
Duma prepares for Georgia strike
Georgian tanks in the Pankisi Gorge
Georgia's military operation in Pankisi Gorge was dissmissed by Russia

The Russian parliament, the Duma, has begun drafting a document which will authorise the army to take military action in Georgia.

The move comes after the Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Ivanov, accused the Georgian authorities of aiding and abetting international terrorists, and warned that Russia was ready to strike at Georgian territory in self-defence.

The chairman of the Duma international affairs committee, Dmitri Rogozin, said the lawmakers had employed several US law firms to prepare a list of international clauses and legal precedents that would support Russia's right to strike at rebel bases on Georgian territory.

Urgent issue
Map of Georgia showing Pankisi gorge
Russia alleges terrorists are based in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge

He said the issue became urgent after President Vladimir Putin's announcement last week that Russia could resort to self-defence in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Russian generals claim they expect an attack by the Chechen rebels and foreign mercenaries based in Georgia.

Mr Rogozin said the document prepared by his committee should allow the Russian military to lauch a pre-emptive strike with a clear conscience.

Mr Rogozin said he had asked US law firms for expert advice because the Americans are experienced in using the authority of Article 51.

The evidence

In its treatment of Georgia, Russia appears to be shadowing US moves towards Iraq.

The US Congress is expected on Thursday to vote on a resolution that would give President Bush powers to take whatever action he deems necessary against Iraq.

Earlier in Washington the Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said he had presented his American partners with what he called "irrefutable evidence" of Georgia's support for international terrorists.

The evidence was secret, Ivanov said, refusing to disclose it to the press.

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