The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a tough, even brutal note to the Georgian government concerning an alleged Chechen terrorist presence on Georgian territory. The ministry prepared a detailed summary of the note and posted it on the official Russian government website Rosinformtsentr (September 18). The note begins by demanding “the turning over to the Russian side of illegal armed formations who are suspected of having committed crimes on the territory of our country.” Despite repeated appeals, the note complained, about 100 terrorists who had been “blockaded” on the Ingushetian section of the Russian-Georgian border in October 2000 have not been turned over to the Russian side. Neither have “thirteen bandits suspected of having committed terrorist acts in Russia,” who were taken into custody, while still carrying weapons, by Georgian borderguards in June of 2001. In addition, Russia is demanding that Georgia surrender “bandits who are directly linked to Khattab, Shamil Basaev, Ruslan Gelaev and other chieftains of the illegal armed formations.”
The note went on to demand that Georgia “undertake harsh actions against the bandits who are undergoing training and planning new terrorist acts while located on Georgian territory, including in the Pankisi Gorge.” It is also demanded that Chechen separatist “information centers” and “representations” on Georgian soil be closed down. “It is time,” the note concluded, “for Georgia not in words but in deeds to join itself to the united front of civilized states in removing the threat of international terrorism.”
In a similar vein, FSB spokesman General Aleksander Zdanovich and Minister of Internal Affairs Boris Gryzlov, as well as other representatives of the Russian law enforcement organs, charged that “the money for the Chechen rebels comes from the Middle East to the Pankisi Gorge and then goes on to Moscow banks” (Gazeta.ru, September 20).
These tough demands and charges by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian poweer ministries were accompanied by even harsher statements made by several leading Russian politicians and journalists. Speaking on Russian state television, Boris Nemtsov, one of the leaders of the parliamentary faction Union of Right Forces–who has recently undergone a transformation from a “dove” to a “hawk” concerning the war in Chechnya–affirmed that Russia “had a right to conduct antiterrorist operations on Georgian territory without the latter’s compliance.” Nemtsov remarked contemptuously that President Shevardnadze’s “weak state, weak army and weak police” were incapable of dealing with the fact that Chechens had “occupied part of Georgia’s territory.” In a swift response, the Georgian Foreign Ministry in Tbilisi underscored that “Nemtsov’s statement radically contradicts common principles of international law and is an attempt to fulfil Moscow’s political goals in the region by means of force” (IWPR, September 20).
In similar fashion, the well-known Russian hardline state television (ORT) commentator Mikhail Leont’ev maintained that Russia should make use of the current “beneficial situation” and “try to resolve at least some of our problems in Chechnya and Georgia.” And Leont’ev continued: “If Russia now wipes out the Chechen militants in the Pankisi Gorge, not a single soul in the world will be able to reproach us” (Eurasianet, September 20).
Georgia responded to the harsh note from the Russian Foreign Ministry and to the bellicose rhetoric on Russian state television by bending a bit but not caving in. The General Procurator’s Office of Georgia announced that it was ready to consider the extradition to Russia of three of the thirteen Russian citizens who had been detained on June 6, 2001 when they attempted to trespass the Russian-Georgian state border. “As to extradition of the ten remaining persons,” the procuracy said, “a related decision will be taken only after Russia has provided the necessary materials” (RIA Novosti, September 20).
Similarly, it was announced on September 20 that the Georgian special services “are prepared to take into custody and hand over to Russia Achimez Gochiaev and Yusuf Krimshamkhalov [neither of them, incidentally, ethnic Chechens] who are accused of organizing the explosion of the homes in Moscow in [September] 1999, if the information concerning their being on Georgian territory is confirmed.” The Georgian MGB noted that it did not currently possess such information (RIA Novosti, September 20).
The Georgian authorities also chose to hit back against Russia’s harsh charges. A Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Kakha Imnadze, underscored that Georgia intended to abide by the terms of the agreement it had signed with Russia on jointly combating terrorism and noted that the former Georgian Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who was wanted in Georgia, in connection with a 1995 car bomb attack on then Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze, was still living in Moscow (RFERL, September 19).
On September 21, the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed “extreme indignation” over the accusations carried by the Russian media against the Georgian leadership and termed these charges “unfounded and slanderous.” This statement was apparently elicited in large part by the appearance on Russian state television of the aforementioned Igor Giorgadze, who is wanted by Georgia for carrying out terrorist acts. For some odd reason, the Georgian ministry observed, “the international terrorist Igor Giorgadze, who is sought by Interpol, but who regularly speaks out on the mass media of the Russian Federation,” remains unreachable for Russian law enforcement organs (NTV.ru, September 21).
To sum up, on September 19, the Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei commented that, “in relation to Georgia, Russia is in fact duplicating the actions of the United States against Afghanistan” (September 19). It remained unclear, however, whether Moscow intended to turn its harsh and threatening verbal rhetoric against Georgia into something more.