Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Considers Strikes on Georgia

In his harshest warning yet to Georgia, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the military to draft plans for possible strikes on Georgian territory, where Russia believes Chechen rebels are hiding.

As the basis for his order, Putin cited a United Nations Security Council resolution approved a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The resolution requires states to help prevent terrorist acts and deny safe haven to terrorists and their sponsors.

Putin told a meeting of senior security and defense officials in Sochi that he had asked top military brass "to study the feasibility of striking" bases run by Chechen rebels in the crime-infested Pankisi Gorge. Such strikes would be carried out if Chechen rebels cross into Georgia while being pursued by Russian forces, Putin said.

"The Defense Ministry and other defense and security agencies will make proposals for planning special operations aimed at destroying rebel groups if attempts to penetrate Russia resume," Putin said in televised remarks.

He said the Foreign Ministry would alert the UN Security Council and allies in the U.S.-led war against terror that Russia felt Georgia was violating UN anti-terrorist resolutions.

Putin cited Article 51 of the UN Charter and UN Security Council Resolution 1373. The UN Charter allows use of force against other states for self-defense. The United States pressed for the approval of Resolution 1373 after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze did not immediately comment on Putin's remarks.

His aide Levan Alexidze, however, said Article 51 does not apply to the current situation, Interfax reported.

Russia has repeatedly argued that Georgia is unable to rid the Pankisi Gorge of militant fighters without help from Russia. The military has complained for months that Chechen rebels hiding in the Pankisi Gorge were crossing into Russia to carry out attacks. Russian troops have reported furious clashes near the border in recent weeks and said their hands were tied after rebels crossed back into Georgia.

The United States has said it suspects that members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network may be camped out in the gorge.

Last month, Georgia launched an operation there by police and security forces and announced the sweep well in advance, leaving no element of surprise. Shevardnadze said earlier this month that the search had turned up only "a few dozen militants."

Alexidze, who advises the Georgian president on international law, said Chechen rebels have made no incursions and expressed surprise that Putin was considering strikes at a time when Georgia "was making concrete efforts to enforce law and order in Pankisi."

Georgian Security Minister Valery Khaburdzania said there was "no particular alarm" in Tbilisi over Putin's statement and promised that Georgia was "ready for any surprises." He said Chechen rebels had no bases in Pankisi but added that small groups could be hiding in the mountains.

Putin said Russia will resort to the "inalienable right of self-defense."

"If the Georgian leadership fails to create a security zone in the area of the Russian-Georgian border [and] fails to prevent outrages and incursions into Russia's neighboring areas," he said.

He said "nobody can deny" that Pankisi harbors suspected participants in the Sept. 11 attacks and the apartment blasts that killed more than 300 people in four Russian cities in 1999.

Putin accused Tbilisi of turning a blind eye to the presence of Chechen rebels in Pankisi and failing to extradite those captured. He said there are "hundreds of terrorists" hiding on Georgian territory and dismissed Georgia's "so-called" counter-terrorism operation in Pankisi as a show. Unlike Pankisi, "the infrastructure of international terrorism has been destroyed" in Chechnya, Putin said. He praised federal forces for having dealt "a strong, palpable blow ... to bandit groups" in Chechnya.

Hours before the president issued his statement, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov came crashing down on Georgia for supporting Chechen "terrorists."

In a speech before lawmakers, Ivanov juxtaposed Georgia and Iraq, saying that Tbilisi's role in supporting terrorism had been proven far more conclusively than Baghdad's, State Duma deputies present at the session said.

"There was an attempt by terrorists to make a breakthrough from Georgia in late July, early August," Ivanov told reporters after the speech, which was off-limits to the press. "You saw those who were arrested. Where are those people? Where are those terrorists?"

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday reiterated its demand that Georgia extradite 13 alleged Chechen rebels who were detained last month on the border between the two countries.

The ministry said it had sent a diplomatic note calling on Georgia not to delay surrendering the fighters to Russia. It said Moscow had sent additional documents to Tbilisi "undeniably proving the fighters' and terrorists' participation in criminal activity on Russian territory," The Associated Press reported.

Georgian Prosecutor General Nugzar Gabrichidze told Interfax that Tbilisi was not dragging its feet on the extraditions. "Tbilisi is currently carrying out all the procedures required to make this decision," he was quoted as saying.