Putin hardens stance on Georgia
MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian President Vladimir Putin used the first anniversary of the terror attacks on the U.S. to issue an ultimatum to the ex-Soviet state of Georgia.
In a televised speech on Wednesday to the Russian people -- and in a letter on Thursday to world leaders -- Putin said Georgia risked military strikes unless it curbed the rebels Moscow accuses of mounting acts of terror against Russia from the Pankisi gorge.
Speaking on Wednesday, Putin called on the Georgian leadership to create a secure border, otherwise he reserved the right for Russia to act in its own self-defence.
Putin said he would consider launching strikes unless Georgia took action to end "bandit" incursions across their common border.
He said: "I am asking the military staff to provide proposals on whether it is possible and expedient to launch strikes on bases of terrorists reliably identified in intelligence operations."
On Thursday, Putin sent a letter to world leaders accusing Georgia of harbouring Chechen rebels and terrorists.
The letter -- addressed to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.N. Security Council members and members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- accused Georgia of violating U.N. anti-terrorism resolutions.
Putin wrote: "If the Georgian leadership doesn't take concrete actions to destroy the terrorists, and bandit incursions continue from its territory, Russia will take adequate measures to counteract the terrorist threat, in strict accordance with international law."
He said Georgia had rejected Russian offers to conduct joint operations to root out rebels, but added that any action would not be "directed at undermining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country" or "changing the political regime."
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met with is security council to study the Russian ultimatum ahead of a full gathering of the parliament later on Thursday.
Putin claims there is evidence that rebels in Pankisi were directly involved in the blasts in 1999 that killed 300 people in Moscow and other Russian cities.
He also claimed they were involved in the planning for the attacks in the U.S. last year.
Putin, who said there would be no need to use the U.N. Charter's "self-defence" clause if Georgia controlled matters, has the support of senior members of the Russian government.
Dmitry Rogozin, head of the Duma lower house of parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, told NTV television: "We cannot allow any more incursions into Russia with large loss of life.
"The president clearly knows what he is talking about. Parliament and public opinion will back him."
Shevardnadze expressed surprise at Putin's tone, saying the Russian leader's address was "biased with a one-sided view."
He said: "I was surprised there was not a single word about Chechnya in this statement."
Tension between Russia and Georgia has been increasing in recent weeks.
Rebels have been blamed for downing a Russian military helicopter last month, killing 119. (Full story)
Georgia has dispatched 1,000 troops to the area to hunt down the rebels.
Last month, the U.S. -- which has sent Special Forces advisers to train the Georgian army -- said there were "credible reports" that Russia had violated Georgia's sovereignty and "indiscriminately bombed" villages in the Pankisi gorge -- a claim Russia denied. (Full story)
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