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The Moscow Times, September 23, 2002

This Could Prove a Costly Escapade

By Grigory Yavlinsky

Russian military strikes against Georgia are inadmissible. The questionable gains of a military operation are completely outweighed by the political damage that Russia would incur both at home and internationally if it spreads the war in Chechnya to the neighboring independent state of Georgia. For 200 years we lived together in a single state, including 70 years under the Soviet regime. The consequences of such a move would be destructive for both nations.

Moreover, the situation in the Pankisi Gorge does not hold the key to ending the war in Chechnya. There are considerably more rebel fighters and terrorists in Chechnya itself and adjoining territories, than there are in Pankisi. Georgia is far from being the main conduit for rebels, terrorists, mercenaries, weapons and money to enter Chechnya. And we should not forget that Chechnya gave rise to the "Pankisi factor" and not the other way around.

The military, by proposing strikes on Georgia to President Vladimir Putin, is trying to conceal from the president its inability to deal with the task at hand in Chechnya; talk of strikes is also being used as a ruse to divert public attention. This could well prove to be a costly escapade.

It is undoubtedly the case that certain forces in Georgia are providing political support to active adversaries of Russia's constitutional order. Some Chechen rebel fighters have illegally crossed over onto Georgian territory. Instead of prosecuting them, Tbilisi has been giving them a free hand and using them for political purposes.

Chechen insurgents in Georgia should be disarmed and terrorists neutralized and tried. This is what political cooperation between the leadership of Russia and Georgia should be centered on. Russia can and should bring pressure to bear on Georgia to use its law enforcement agencies to this end. But this is not an issue of armed conflict between the two states.

Indeed, Russia's myopic and irresponsible interventions in Abkhazia, Adzharia and South Ossetia have been futile and extremely dangerous. In response to the Russian elite's penchant for indulging separatist aspirations, Tbilisi considers it acceptable to give political cover to Chechen terrorists. Counting on backing from the international community, Tbilisi is mistakenly serving up a "symmetrical response" to Russia and as a result simply repeating Russia's mistakes.

Russia's might is incomparably greater than that of its neighbors. For this reason, it is incumbent upon Russia to show heightened responsibility regarding what goes on in the region.

Putin should reach an agreement with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. And after that, the relevant law enforcement agencies in Russia and Georgia should be left to get on with the job. And that's it.

Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.

See also:
Relationships between Russia and Georgia

The Moscow Times, September 23, 2002

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