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Russia, Georgia at Odds Over Rebel Movements in Border Regions - 2002-03-23

Tensions are on the rise between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which are exchanging accusations of supporting rebel movements in border regions. Many Russian politicians are also upset about the plan for U.S. troops to arrive in Georgia to help in anti-terrorism training.

A war of words between Russia and Georgia has intensified, with Russian parliament members calling for Moscow to take part in anti-terrorist operations inside Georgia.

On Friday, the lower house of parliament, the Duma, unanimously passed a resolution calling for Russian troops to play an active role in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. The heavily forested gorge has become the focus of international attention, with a small number of U.S. military instructors due to arrive in Georgia soon.

Washington is concerned that elements of the al-Qaida terrorist network may be in the gorge, a concern shared by Georgia.

But Russia, in turn, accuses Georgia of allowing rebels from nearby Chechnya to take refuge in the gorge and wants to take action against them.

Further complicating the situation is the Black Sea region of western Georgia, known as Abkhazia, where a pro-Russian separatist movement expelled Georgian troops in 1993. Abkhazia has had de facto independence from Georgia since then. Russia allegedly provided weapons and political support to the Abkhaz separatists and Russian peacekeepers have been deployed there since 1994.

Georgian officials accuse the peacekeepers of helping the Abkhaz, and have denounced any plan for Russian troops to expand their presence into the Pankisi Gorge.

Relations between Georgia and Russia have long been strained due to the various separatist movements on both sides of their rugged, mountainous border.

Some political analysts say Moscow has an interest in keeping the situation in the region unstable as a way of exerting political and military hegemony in its traditional domain. They say it is largely for this reason that many Russian politicians oppose any U.S. presence in the area, despite President Vladimir Putin's expression of support for the U.S. deployment.