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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S.-Georgia Plans Get Putin's Support

President Vladimir Putin said he supported the U.S. military initiative in Georgia because it would help rid the region of terrorists operating on Russia's frontier and in Chechnya.

Brushing aside a domestic outcry over the news that U.S. forces were entering Georgia to train and equip its armed forces, Putin met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze at a CIS meeting in Kazakhstan on Friday and later told reporters that he approved of the steps Washington was taking.

"If we today are speaking about a fight against terrorism in the Pankisi Gorge, we support this fight no matter who takes part in it, American or European partners or our Georgian colleagues directly," Putin said.

"If Central Asian countries can do it, why can't Georgia?" he asked.

Putin expressed some disappointment that Moscow learned about the American initiative from Washington rather than from Shevardnadze. But he added: "Every country, in particular Georgia, has the right to act in protecting its security. Russia recognizes this right."

For his part, Shevardnadze defended Georgia's decision, saying that the United States, which has aided Georgia in the past with equipment such as cutters for its coast guard, "helped us to build border units."

"Now they are helping in creating anti-terrorist squads," he said. "No other country can provide this aid."

In Moscow on Friday, a U.S. official provided new details about the initial American mission, saying that Washington was offering $64 million to train and equip four 300-strong battalions of Georgian forces. The program would equip the units with light weapons, vehicles and communications.

In a sign that Putin has his military commanders lined up to accept the American initiative, the first deputy chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Yury Baluyevsky, said at a news conference that he did not consider the American trainers in Georgia as "American troops."

"American specialists are assisting the Georgian armed forces and the number is relatively small," he said. "This is not causing us concern."

Before Putin spoke Friday, Russia's reaction to the American deployment of up to 200 trainers appeared more negative. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to tell him of Moscow's "well-founded concerns" about the American involvement, a Foreign Ministry statement said.

In Rome on Friday, Ivanov moderated his tone, echoing Putin in noting that Georgia was a sovereign state with a right to seek help, but again saying that the arrival of U.S. soldiers could "make the situation in Georgia more difficult."

Some U.S. and Georgian officials have insisted that U.S. forces will not be involved in any fighting. But the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, said on Russian television, "What might happen in the future is an open question."

Some Georgian officials have said they would like U.S. Special Forces to help them clean out the Pankisi Gorge, and a number of U.S. officials are now indicating that this is a possibility, although the equipment initially given to the Georgians might not be adequate.

U.S. officials have begun to state more clearly that one goal in training Georgian forces is to take aim at Islamic extremists fighting alongside Chechen rebels. Those extremists use the Pankisi Gorge for transit, training and shipments of arms and financing.

Putin also highlighted concerns in Abkhazia, the breakaway region of western Georgia. He said Shevardnadze had assured him that Georgia would not use its new American-supplied military capacities to attack separatists in Abkhazia, whose leaders have been seeking to secede from Georgia and "associate" the territory with Russia.

In separate signs of tense relations between Russia and Georgia, a Russian company announced it was cutting off gas supplies to the Georgian capital, and Georgia said aircraft from Russia had briefly violated its airspace, Reuters reported.

On Friday, Georgia's border guards said a helicopter and two jets had intruded from Russia briefly in two separate incidents. Russia denied its aircraft were involved.

Also on Friday, Itera, Russia's main exporter of natural gas to the former Soviet Union, cut off Tbilisi's municipal gas company, accusing it of nonpayment.