27 February 2002
Russian officials say they oppose plans to send U.S. military advisers to Georgia. The Kremlin says such a development could aggravate the security situation in the region.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made it clear Russia does not want U.S. troops on its doorstep in neighboring Georgia. He told Russian television that Washington is well aware of the Kremlin's opposition to such a move.
Russia has long maintained that Georgia's remote Pankisi Gorge region has become a haven for Chechen separatists linked with Osama bin Laden. But Russia has also made it clear it would prefer to handle the problem.
Mr. Ivanov said Russia has offered to deal with the situation in the Pankisi Gorge because it is important for Russia, Georgia, and stability on the Caucasus. He added Moscow remains ready to help Georgia fight the terrorist threat.
Georgian officials have repeatedly rejected such calls in the past.
The Pankisi Gorge is part of Georgia, but the Tbilisi government has been unable to assert its control over the area. On several occasions Russian planes have bombed what they say are Chechen militant targets there.
Pentagon officials said Tuesday that the United States is considering sending soldiers to the former Soviet republic to start training Georgia's army, but the Americans will not play a combat role. They say the move is intended to counter what they see as a growing terrorist threat in the Pankisi Gorge region.
Some reports said the United States is already providing combat helicopters to Georgia. A spokeswoman for the Georgian military says U.S. military advisers are already on their way to the country to train an anti-terrorist task force.
About 40 U.S. soldiers, including special operations troops, visited Georgia earlier this month.
Some 660 U.S. troops are in the Philippines training forces fighting the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group, which has been linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.