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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Denies Putin's Right to Strike

Georgia has denied that President Vladimir Putin's warning of possible military intervention in the Pankisi Gorge could be justified by the international anti-terrorist campaign, saying it is nothing but a "threat of Russian aggression against a neighboring sovereign state."

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush asked Russia to give Georgia time to flush out rebels in the gorge. He said Georgian troops were being trained by the United States to combat terrorism on their own.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued its official response Friday, two days after Putin's warning to take strong action against alleged terrorists on its territory or face Russian involvement. Putin based his argument on United Nations resolutions on fighting terrorism that permit unilateral action.

"The Georgian side firmly calls on the Russian side to refrain from steps that have not been thought out, which could lead to new destruction and human losses, destabilize the situation in the Caucasus as a whole and inflict irreparable damage to Russian-Georgian relations," the ministry said.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze later sent a five-page letter to Putin, complaining about Russian attempts to turn Georgia into an enemy.

"No such threat has come from Georgia in relation to Russia or will come," Shevardnadze said in the letter, which was released to the media.

Furious words have flown between Tbilisi and Moscow for months over Georgia's lawless Pankisi Gorge, where Chechen rebels and terrorists have allegedly linked to al-Qaida have found refuge and from which they allegedly launched attacks into Russia. Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky said Friday that 300 to 400 rebels were believed to be based in the gorge at any one time.

Bush, speaking at Camp David on Saturday, said Washington expected the Georgians "to root out the al-Qaida-type terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge."

But Bush, noting that American instructors were helping to train Georgia's military, urged the Kremlin to be patient. "I have told Vladimir Putin that they must give the Georgians a chance to achieve a common objective, an objective that's important for Georgia, an objective that's important for Russia, an objective that's important for the United States," Bush said. "And so, I urge him to continue to work with us to allow the Georgia troops to do their job."

In New York, European Union foreign ministers at a UN General Assembly session Friday told Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov that the EU disapproved of any unilateral action on Georgia.

U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, visiting Moscow on Friday, quashed speculation of a deal under which Moscow would lift objections to U.S. military strikes on Iraq if given U.S. leave to hit bases in Georgia.

"I don't see that there are really any quid pro quos to be had [on Iraq], whether with Russia or others," he said.

The State Duma, meanwhile, passed a resolution Friday accusing Georgian leaders of being "fellow-travelers" with international terrorists who pose a direct threat to the security of Russian citizens, "including those living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia." The Duma resolution, passed by a vote of 350-21, with two abstentions, expressed full support for Putin's warning and suggested that Moscow consider economic sanctions against Georgia, including ending preferential energy prices.

The Georgian parliament late Friday approved a nearly 30 percent increase in defense spending, by 13 million lari ($7 million). Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze indicated that some of the funding would go toward new anti-aircraft weapons, saying that soon the country would have "not only slingshots" to shoot down warplanes that violate its airspace.

Georgia has repeatedly accused Russian aircraft of carrying out bombing raids on its territory just over the border from Chechnya.

 A Chechen man who was wounded and detained after trying to flee a police checkpoint in the Pankisi Gorge escaped from a hospital with the help of accomplices, an official said Saturday.

Georgian Interior Minister Koba Narchemashvili ordered the arrest of the regional police chief, who was responsible for security at the hospital.

(AP, Reuters)