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Putin: U.S. deployment 'no tragedy'

Putin said it is Georgia's right to protect its security
Putin said it is Georgia's right to protect its security  

CHIMBULAK, Kazakhstan -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered a conciliatory response to the United States' announcement that it is to send special forces to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Speaking at a news conference in Kazakhstan on Friday during a summit of leaders of former Soviet countries, Putin said: "It's no tragedy and it cannot be.

"Why should they (the U.S. forces) be in Central Asia and not in Georgia?"

He added: "Every country, in particular Georgia, has the right to act in protecting its security. Russia recognises that right."

The only sign of irritation was Putin's claim that Georgia had not informed Russia of the development.

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He said: "The fact of the matter is that we didn't know anything about this. Only the American side notified us."

Putin's comments, made in the presence of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, contrast with remarks made by his Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Ivanov, speaking earlier this week, said the U.S. decision would only aggravate the security situation in the region.

He also made the same points in a conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday.

Washington has said that up to 200 U.S. forces will be dispatched to the former Soviet republic to help train Georgian troops to combat terrorism.

The Georgian Defence Ministry said on Friday that the U.S. military instructors would arrive in Georgia later this month.

Russia has frequently offered to help Georgia with anti-terrorist operations in its lawless Pankisi Gorge. Russia says Chechen rebels have rear bases in the Gorge.

Putin, who is due to meet U.S. President George W. Bush for a Moscow summit in May, and Shevardnadze were taking part in the meeting of the Commonwealth of Independence States.

Shevardnadze, who said Russia's embassy in Georgia had been informed about plans to host U.S. military experts, said only Washington had the experience to train special anti-terrorist units of Georgia's fledgling armed forces.

"It's an open secret that the Americans helped us create troops of border guards," the 74-year-old Georgian leader said.

"Now they seriously intend to organise anti-terrorist groups. No other country can do that."

Three other CIS members -- Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan -- already host thousands of U.S. troops as well as aircraft as part of the anti-terror campaign against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network in nearby Afghanistan.

A fourth, Kazakhstan, has offered to do so and make airspace available.

All four countries signed a security pact on Thursday to form a new grouping within the CIS, the Central Asian Cooperation (CAC) pact.


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