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November 29, 2001
Shevardnadze and Russian Generals Deal a Powerful Blow to Putin's Policies
Sergei Markov: "Furtive strikes create colossal problems for Russian leaders on the world scene"
By Sergei Markov

Aircraft and helicopter activity taking place on Russia's border with Georgia has created an unprecedented situation in relations with Russia because it is impermissible for the armed forces of any state to carry out air strikes on the territory of a sovereign country without a clear and legally sound political decision.

Several versions of the sequence of events, which took place early on November 28th are being considered.

The first version is that it was a massive provocation on the part of the Georgian authorities. However, this is unlikely.

A second version is that it was a Russian strike on terrorist camps in the Pankiss gorge. If this is true, it is possible to sympathize with the way the Russian generals behaved. The Georgian government's treatment of Chechen gunmen is almost identical with the Taliban's treatment of bin Laden. There is no doubt that Georgia's government shelters terrorists and helps them by giving them logistical support. This became especially clear when Ruslan Gelayev's band was allowed safe passage across Georgian territory.

Russian generals have every reason to hate Eduard Shevardnadze. He is largely responsible for the way Soviet leaders withdrew troops from Eastern Europe. He is personally responsible for the tragedy of the thousands of families of army servicemen, who found themselves in unbearable conditions following the withdrawal. Conditions so harsh that hundreds of army servicemen commit suicide.

Nevertheless, Russian generals have no right to do anything that could have far-reaching ramifications with regards to Russia's world standing. There are no parallels between what happened in the Pankiss gorge and U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Americans had powerful political support, including international support. As for the Pankiss incident, it was a hush-hush, stealthy operation. Such strikes cannot achieve military objectives, but they do create colossal political problems for Russian leaders.

In this case Russian generals behaved as if spurred to action by a plan drawn up by Eduard Shevardnadze and Zbigniew Brzezinski.

It is a fact that Georgian leaders initiated large-scale provocations against Russia immediately following Shevardnadze's visit to Washington. He had a chilling meeting with President Bush at the White House and was told in no uncertain terms that he should stop supporting terrorists and cooperate with Russia in the elimination of terrorist bases.

However, he found allies in the U.S. Congress where some lawmakers do not support George W. Bush's policy of promoting strategic partnership with Russia. Such people regard Russia as an inveterate adversary of the United States and of the Western civilization.

They may have told Georgia's president that in order to get Western support he needed to convince the world that Moscow had imperialist ambitions and that the provocations in Abkhazia and the Pankiss gorge should be viewed precisely in that context.

The provocation in the Pankiss Gorge was crowned with success. Shevardnadze and Russian generals have dealt a powerful blow to the Russian president, his policy of promoting rapprochement with the United States and his efforts to construct an anti-terrorist coalition along the same lines as the anti-Hitler coalition.

It might be argued that Georgian territory was accidentally hit in the course of an operation against gunmen in Chechnya. If that is the case, the mistake was a more serious a crime than the guru diplomat might have said.

As a result, Georgia has extracted maximum advantage from the mistake.

According to yet another version, the Pankiss strikes were carried out by Abkhazia's air force, but it does not invalidate the second version: no sober-minded person will believe that the Abkhazians could have ventured to escalate hostilities with Georgia without consulting the Russian military.

Strictly speaking, a military operation against terrorist bases in Georgia to rout the gunmen would be acceptable. But, it should be an overt operation with the full political backing of the Russian leadership. Those who do not know how to make political decisions, have no right to roll out the aircraft.

What Russian leaders need to do is hold an inquiry into the incident, and those responsible for making a grave political blunder should be removed from their posts. This will only shore up Russia's positions in the world and lead to the isolation of Georgian leaders who are supporting international terrorism.

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