MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russia rammed home on Thursday a warning it could attack rebel Chechen bases in neighboring Georgia as part of the international fight against terrorism–saying UN resolutions gave it the right to do so.
In Georgia–top security officials debated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stern warning–first issued on Russian television on Wednesday night–behind closed doors–but took no action. Georgia’s parliament appealed to the United Nations and other bodies to “prevent military aggression by Russia.”
Putin said Russia had evidence rebels in Georgia’s remote Pankisi Gorge helped plan last year’s airliner attacks on the United States–and were directly involved in 1999 apartment block blasts that killed about 300 Russia’s.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan–Putin said Georgia had turned a blind eye to rebel bases in Pankisi and shunned Russian offers to help flush out the militants.
"If the Georgian authorities do not undertake concrete actions aimed at destroying terrorists–and if militants continue their raids into Russia from Georgia–Russia…will undertake appropriate measures to counter this terrorist threat," Putin’s letter said.
He said UN Security Council resolution 1368–voted after the deaths of 3,000 people in last September’s attacks on the United States–gave Moscow the right to take action. But that did not mean Russia would destroy Georgian sovereignty.
The UN resolution says states “will be held accountable” for harboring those behind the New York and Pentagon strikes.
In Tbilisi–officials emerging from a meeting of Georgia’s Security Council–convened by President Eduard Shevardnadze–said the country’s leadership would approach differences with Russia through diplomatic channels.
"We believe that what is currently happening between Russia and Georgia must not go beyond a diplomatic framework," Nino Burdzhanadze–parliamentary speaker–told reporters.
GEORGIA APPEALS TO UNITED NATIONS
Parliament later passed appeals to the United Nations–European Union and other bodies urging them ‘to take real measures to help Georgia and prevent new military aggression and attempts at annexation by Russia.’
Senior Russian parliamentarians also discussed Putin’s address–which included an order for Russia’s military to draw up a hit-list of rebel bases on Georgian territory.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told Interfax news agency a list would be ready in a few days.
Most members of parliament supported the speech.
"If the Americans were in our place–they would have bombarded everything moving there," Vyacheslav Volodin of the pro-Putin United Russia group told Rossiya state television.
Putin’s address coincided with the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks–and the buildup to U.S. President George W. Bush’s UN speech saying “action will be unavoidable” against Iraq unless the UN forces Baghdad to disarm.
Russia’steadfastly opposes any use of force against Iraq.
Russian and Georgian observers said Moscow was seeking a quid pro quo from Washington — silence over U.S. military action against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in exchange for American acquiescence to Russian strikes in Pankisi.
"Russia is offering the USA a deal: Iraq in exchange for Georgia," the Kommersant business daily wrote in a front-page article accompanied by a picture of a bloodied Shevardnadze after a 1995 attempt on his life.
Zurab Chyaberashvili–an independent Tbilisi-based analyst–said Putin was aiming more at the United States than Georgia.
"Putin wanted to tell (U.S. President) George W. Bush that if the United States can launch strikes on Iraq–Russia can do the same in the Pankisi Gorge," he said.
U.S. army instructors are training Georgian troops to tackle guerrillas. Washington has backed Tbilisi over an alleged Russian bombing raid on Pankisi last month–which Moscow denied.
Putin has openly scoffed at Shevardnadze’s dispatch of 1,000 troops into Pankisi in August to flush out the rebels.