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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Preventive Strikes on Pankisi Planned

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow was prepared to unleash preventive strikes on militants in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, and that he would give U.S. officials evidence of a terrorist presence across Russia's southern border.

"If we see that bandits are headed in our direction and only 10 to 15 kilometers are left before the border, should we wait for them to cross the border, kill someone and disperse?" Ivanov, who is on a trip to Washington, said in televised remarks broadcast Thursday. "Naturally, in this situation we will take a preventive action to protect our security and lives of our citizens."

Ivanov's statement drew an immediate angry response from Georgia. Dzhemal Gakhokidze, deputy chief of President Eduard Shevardnadze's Security Council, warned that a Russian operation in Georgia would amount to an "aggression and an international crime."

Ilya Shabalkin, a spokesman for federal forces in Chechnya, said Thursday that soldiers were battling several dozen rebels who had crossed into the region from Georgia, Itar-Tass reported.

Sergei Livantsov, a spokesman for the regional border guards headquarters, said that a Russian patrol spotted a dozen gunmen in southern Chechnya near the border with Georgia and called for an artillery strike, the Interfax-Military News Agency reported.

President Vladimir Putin last week ordered the military to draw up plans to carry out strikes on suspected Chechen rebel bases in Georgia's lawless Pankisi Gorge. He said the strikes would be carried out if Chechen rebels cross into Georgia while being chased by Russian forces.

Ivanov appeared to take the strike plan one step further in saying Russia would strike rebels on Georgian territory if they were considered a threat.

Ivanov, who is in Washington with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, said he and his colleague would use meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell to provide "tons of proof" of terrorist activity in Georgia.

The meetings are part of a series agreed on in May between U.S. President George W. Bush and Putin to improve the two countries' cooperation in security.

Federal Security Service head Nikolai Patrushev echoed Ivanov's comments Thursday and said Russia will use force to "neutralize" terrorists in Georgia.

"We have proof that international terrorists are hiding in Georgia," Patrushev said before the opening of the summit of security chiefs from the Commonwealth of Independent States in Chisinau, Moldova.

"We will apply force to neutralize them so they don't reach Russian territory," he said. He did not elaborate.

However, retired Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov, who headed the Defense Ministry's international cooperation department until Putin fired him last year, warned Thursday that an attack on Georgia would be pointless militarily and damaging for Russia's reputation worldwide.

"Even if we launch airstrikes and score a hit -- usually we fail -- and kill 20 to 30 people, will it be a major victory?" Ivashov said at a news conference.

"But it will bring colossal complications to Russia," which will have a hard time proving to the United Nations that tiny Georgia was an aggressor, Ivashov said.

On Thursday, the chief of Georgia's Security Council, Tedo Dzhaparidze, left for Washington, where he intended to talks with U.S. officials about Georgian-American relations and the operation in Pankisi, Shevardnadze spokesman Kakha Imnadze said. (AP, MT)