Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 3 Issue: 25

Throughout August and into early September, the Russian and Georgian governments continued to exchange sharp words over the murky situation in the Pankisi Gorge region of northern Georgia. “The United States,” the White House press secretary stated on August 24, “is deeply concerned about credible reports that Russian military aircraft indiscriminately bombed villages in northern Georgia on August 23, resulting in the killing of civilians….The United States strongly supports Georgia’s independence and territorial integrity” (Whitehouse.gov, August 24). On September 2, President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia related at a news conference that Georgia had launched a major police operation in the Gorge and had then concluded that there were but “a few dozen” Chechen and Arab militants located there. He said that information about the presence of al-Qaida fighters there had not been confirmed (AP, September 2). Two days later, Vladimir Putin termed unacceptable the Georgian president’s tactic of “a peaceful squeezing out” of terrorists from the Pankisi Gorge. “For the effective suppression of a hotbed of terrorism in the Pankisi Gorge,” he lectured Shevardnadze in a letter dated September 4, “political will is needed” (RIA Novosti, September 5). A recent VTsIOM poll showed that Putin enjoys strong popular support in his dispute with Georgia: “Fifty-eight percent [of respondents] are prepared to support a military operation by Russian forces in the Pankisi Gorge against Chechen rebels” (Wciom.ru, August 29).