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NIS Observed, Volume VII, Number 4 (27 February 2002), Chechnya-related part

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  • Norbert Strade
    The NIS Observed: An Analytical Review Volume VII, Number 4 (27 February 2002) GEORGIA Next stop Pankisi for US war on terror Today the US government announced
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2002
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      The NIS Observed: An Analytical Review
      Volume VII, Number 4 (27 February 2002)


      Next stop Pankisi for US war on terror

      Today the US government announced that US special forces will be sent to
      Georgia to train and assist a Georgian unit with counter-terrorist
      operations in Pankisi Gorge. "In fact, there are five military experts
      in Georgia now," said Paapa Gaprindashvili, head of the Georgian defense
      ministry's international department.

      US defense officials said in Washington that the administration is
      considering sending 100 to 200 soldiers to Georgia to provide
      anti-terrorist training. Gaprindashvili said that a group of US military
      experts arrived in Georgia earlier this month to choose the military
      units that would take part in the program. The US advisers will be led
      by Otar Shalikashvili, an assistant to the US defense secretary,
      according to Shorena Esakiya, a spokeswoman for the Georgian defense
      ministry. (AP, 27 Feb 02; via lexis-nexis)

      Russian spokesmen have reacted cautiously, saying that they would prefer
      to carry out such operations themselves. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov
      said Moscow has repeatedly proposed to Tbilisi that the terrorist threat
      be dealt with through joint efforts." As far as the possible appearance
      of US troops in Georgia is concerned, from our point of view this could
      still further complicate the already complex situation in the region.
      This position of ours is well known to Washington." (RUSSIAN PUBLIC TV
      (ORT), 1200 GMT, 27 Feb 02)

      Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov welcomed the news. "We approve of the
      United States' decision to go after the fighters and leaders of al-Qaeda
      in the Pankisi gorge, if they are there," a spokesman for Maskhadov told
      Agence France-Presse. "If Russia conducts an operation in the gorge,
      thousands of innocent people will die, while NATO units are known for
      their humanity towards the civilian population," he added. (AFP, 27 Feb
      02; via lexis-nexis)

      Controversy had erupted when Philip Remler, the head of the US mission
      to Georgia, told a Georgian newspaper that the US "is elaborating a
      plan" to "create a counter-terrorism force" within the Georgian defense
      ministry to counter the "several tens" of Al-Qaeda mujahadeen who have
      turned up in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. According to Remler, the
      fugitives from Afghanistan have contacts with "al-Khattab, an Arab
      terrorist. The latter, for his part, is connected with Osama bin Laden.
      The Pankisi Gorge is an extremely dangerous place for Georgia."
      (INTERFAX, 11 Feb 02, and THE GUARDIAN, 15 Feb 02; via lexis-nexis)

      Remler's comments raise many questions that still have not been
      clarified by US officials. It is noteworthy that Remler neither
      confirms nor denies frequent Russian allegations about Chechen links to
      Al-Qaeda and explicitly identifies Khattab as an Arab terrorist.
      However, if the US government has reason to believe that Khattab is in
      contact with Osama bin Laden wouldn't Khattab himself be the appropriate
      target of these operations? Wouldn't it be of paramount importance to
      apprehend the persons with known ties to bin Laden? It also seems
      significant that Remler identifies the Georgian Ministry of Defense and
      not the Ministry of Security, whose officials allegedly have profited
      from drug smuggling rings which operate out of the Pankisi Gorge.
      (CHRONOLOGY; via civil.ge.pankisi.shtml)

      Speaking at the 20 February daily press briefing, State Department
      Spokesman Richard Boucher emphasized that the US is working bilaterally
      with Georgia and there were no plans to resolve the Pankisi problem
      through joint Russian-American cooperation. "What we have always told
      the Russians is that we felt that this situation was best dealt with
      through cooperation with the United States and Georgia, so that Georgia
      would have better control over the area, better control over the
      borders." According to Boucher, there has been no change in US policy.
      The US government has worked with Georgia on issues of border security
      and provided counterterrorism training in the past and will continue to
      do so in the future. (www.state.gov)

      On a trip to St. Petersburg, US Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow
      said that the US does not intend to hold military operations in
      Georgia. Rather, the US plans to "provide military equipment" to help
      the Georgian government "increase its control over the Pankisi Gorge"
      and Georgia's borders. Vershbow added that such operations would "reduce
      the support from outside for the terrorists fighting in Chechnya and
      help in finding a political solution to the problem." Vershbow added
      that the US has been informing Russian authorities about its plans.
      (RIA, 22 Feb 02; BBC Monitoring, via ISI Emerging Markets Database)

      Returning from a trip to the US, Zurab Zhvania, the former speaker of
      the Georgian parliament, explained that US officials are pressuring the
      Georgian government to bring order to the Pankisi Gorge. "Georgia is
      obliged to find its place in the international struggle against
      terrorism," he told reporters. (RIA OREANDA, 22 Feb 02; via

      Since the start of the Chechen war in the fall of 1999, Russian
      officials have been accusing Georgia of harboring Chechen fighters among
      the refugees in the gorge and have sought to use the pretext of rampant
      criminality (including kidnappings and drug smuggling) to conduct
      operations on Georgian territory. Georgian officials had denied the
      presence of Chechen fighters until October 2001 when the Chechen
      commander Ruslan Gelaev and his fighters took part in skirmishes in the
      Kodori Gorge, bordering the separatist region of Abkhazia. In a
      December interview with Moskovskiye novosti, Georgian President Eduard
      Shevardnadze admitted that Gelaev and his followers were in Pankisi and
      explained that their outing to Abkhazia was an attempt to return to the
      North Caucasus; "I was told that Russia had guaranteed them safe
      passage." (For background, see THE NIS OBSERVED, 24 Oct 01 and 12 Dec
      01) For his part, Chechnya's president, Aslan Maskhadov, charged Gelaev
      with "desertion" and demoted him to the rank of private. (THE NIS
      OBSERVED, 16 Jan 02) Indeed, any Chechen fighters who may be operating
      in Pankisi Gorge are compromising the estimated 7,000 Chechen civilians
      who found refuge there and may be repatriated to the conflict zone.


      Deportation Day remembered

      This year very few publications chose to notice that 23 February is
      Deportation Day. It marks the 58th anniversary of the day in 1944 when
      Stalin began ti deport the Chechens and other nations of the North
      Caucasus to Central Asia. Among the worst crimes of the Stalin era, the
      deportations were accompanied by massacres and repression. Hundreds of
      thousands died of suffocation, disease, exposure and starvation. Those
      deemed "untransportable" -- children, the elderly, pregnant women --
      were killed. As a result, the Chechen nation declined by 25 percent.
      Those who survived the journey lived in penal colonies in subhuman
      conditions until 1956 when they were allowed to return to their native
      lands. But even then they remained branded a "punished people." To this
      day, not one person has stood trial for the crimes related to the
      deportations of the Chechens.

      Various protest actions, prayer services and other types of memorials
      for the victims were held throughout Europe, including in London,
      Prague, Warsaw, Paris, Rome and Moscow. The Boston Committee Against
      Ethnic Cleansing held a protest in Copley Square. Participants
      distributed leaflets and gathered signatures for a petition calling on
      the Russian president to end the system of brutal cleansings
      (zachistakas), begin peace talks and release civilian hostages.

      Event organizer Victoria Poupko commented that the public seemed very
      sympathetic to the plight of the Chechens: "Most Americans derive from
      immigrants who fled war or hunger or oppression. So it was not
      surprising that Americans responded with compassion. Some persons of
      Ukrainian or El Salvadoran or Haitian background approached us and
      related their stories." Although there was a great deal of goodwill, it
      also seemed that many Bostonians were not well informed about the war in
      Chechnya. Those who refused to sign the petition said they did not know
      enough to make a judgment. "Still, we were gathering signatures at a
      rate of almost one per minute, " says Poupko.

      by Miriam Lanskoy
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