Commentary Russia-Georgia: ultimatum or warning?

A message by the Russian president to the world community over the situation on the Russian-Georgian border is not the last warning to the Georgian leader, Eduard Shevardnadze, or diplomatic pressure on Tbilisi.

It is a notice that Russia is ready to start an anti-terrorist operation on Georgia's territory without consultations with Tbilisi, without special UN sanction, without looking over its shoulder at the US and Western Europe.

What has prompted Moscow to take such radical measures? In the existing conditions, Moscow cannot bring its counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya to conclusion. The task of destroying the terrorist infrastructure, set before federal troops, "has in the main been achieved in military terms," Putin believes.

Nevertheless, in order for life in Chechnya to return to peaceful ways, it is necessary ultimately to cut short incursions by militants from Georgia, where their bases are situated in the Pankisi Gorge. On the other hand, Tbilisi clearly has no mind to solve once and for all the Pankisi problem, and plenty of proofs can be cited to show this.

Besides, there is also a big question mark if the Shevardnadze administration, which does not control the situation in Georgian rebel regions -- South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Adzharia -- is able in principle to solve the Pankisi problem.

The fact that Putin's statement coincided with the UN General Assembly session in Washington timed to coincide with the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and dedicated to the struggle against international terrorism is not a chance either.

It will soon be three years since an anti-terrorist operation was launched in Chechnya, with terrorist acts in that Russian republic continuing both against Chechen authorities and federal troops, and Moscow no longer wants to tolerate trans-boundary terrorism connived at by Tbilisi.

In deciding the date for publishing the document, account no doubt was taken of the fact that against the background of discussions in New York, Igor Ivanov who is there can, in the course of personal conversations with his foreign counterparts, more quickly and more effectively explain both the gist of the problem and Moscow's stand, and adduce international legal grounds for Russia's moves.

The core of the message is that Russia, basing itself on an appropriate resolution and the charter of the UN, "will take adequate measures to counter the terrorist threat". In absolutely the same way as the US responded exactly a year ago to actions of terrorists by delivering massive blows to their bases on Afghanistan's territory.

In effect what is needed is just another incursion by terrorists from Georgia's territory. The Russian president has already given instructions for preparing a concrete plan to destroy militants in Pankisi in case they break through into Russia's territory. In parallel, Putin also carried out diplomatic preparations.

On the day before he had a lengthy telephone conversation with President Bush. And since the subject concerned the fight against international terrorism, the Russian president, which is now quite obvious, also brought up the situation on the border with Georgia, and the Kremlin's present position concerning its settlement.

And also, seemingly, by way of information. Against the background of Washington's apparent readiness to strike at Baghdad without looking back at opinions in other world capitals, Moscow also finds it convenient to adopt this style, moreover in the face of an immediate, rather than hypothetical, threat.

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