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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow and Tbilisi Point Fingers

When two explosions last month shut down the main pipeline delivering natural gas from Russia to Georgia, the last vestiges of dialogue between the two countries were destroyed. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili claimed that the explosions were aimed at destabilizing Georgia so that it would break apart and "fall into the hands of Russia." North Ossetia, where the pipeline blasts occurred, borders the separatist Georgian region of South Ossetia, which seeks union with Russia. The Foreign Ministry replied in highly undiplomatic language, describing Georgia's policy toward Russia as "a mixture of sponging, hypocrisy and unruliness."

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The angry rhetoric is easy to understand. Georgia was in the grip of a brutal cold snap when the gas went off. And there is little question that the pipeline explosions were part of a carefully coordinated terrorist operation in the North Caucasus region.

The accusations flying back and forth between Moscow and Tbilisi strain credibility. No one but the assortment of characters from Nikolai Gogol's play "The Inspector General" now working in the Foreign Ministry could believe that Saakashvili, like the non-commissioned officer's widow in the play, would flog himself when it's 20 below zero out. The notion that the Russians would blow up their own pipeline just before the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe meets to discuss Russia's attempts to use gas as a foreign policy weapon is equally hard to accept.

The simple truth is that separatists will continue to blow up gas pipelines in the Caucasus region whenever they please because the mountains lie outside the control of Moscow, Tbilisi and everyone else.

The pipeline explosions occurred several kilometers from the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia. North Ossetia is Russia's outpost in the North Caucasus. Ingushetia is a republic where Shamil Basayev happily gives an interview to Andrei Babitsky, and where the fighters on their way to Beslan set up their training camp near the obscure village of Psedakh. After Beslan you might have expected the feds to secure the Ingush-North Ossetian border, but that would amount to an admission that they've lost control of Ingushetia.

The situation in the mountains of Karachayevo-Cherkessia is no different. These mountains belong to a people that was deported along with the Chechens and the Ingush in 1943 -- a people that has never forgiven Russia, and whose belief in Allah grows more fervid all the time. Karachayevo-Cherkessia today looks a lot like Chechnya did in 1993. In recent years, members of the dominant Karachai ethnic group have forced Russians out of nine large villages much as the Chechens drove Russians out of Grozny in the early 1990s. For Saakashvili it's obviously more advantageous to talk about Russian intrigues than lawlessness in the Caucasus. But it's interesting that Russia couldn't resist this temptation, either. The Kremlin had to decide whether to describe these attacks as part of the ongoing war with local separatists or as the work of foreign enemies. Not surprisingly, they went for door number two.

One thing stands out in all this. Whoever planned the explosions last month -- most likely Basayev -- possessed a network of agents capable of simultaneously pulling off two attacks hundreds of kilometers apart. He also had a far better understanding of the strategic consequences of the attacks than the Kremlin dinosaur, which is so entranced by its own enormous size that it still hasn't noticed that its long, craggy Great Caucasian Tail has fallen off.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.