Russia sees red at US forces plan for Georgia

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The Independent Online

Russia took sharp issue yesterday with US plans to send special forces units to Georgia – a move that would bring Washington's campaign against terrorism into the very heart of what Moscow considers to be its direct sphere of influence.

Russia took sharp issue yesterday with US plans to send special forces units to Georgia – a move that would bring Washington's campaign against terrorism into the very heart of what Moscow considers to be its direct sphere of influence.

Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, warned that the US risked worsening the already fraught security situation in the Caucasus after reports suggested the Pentagon may send between 100 and 200 men to train Georgia's army to combat terrorism.

The aim of the exercise is to tackle the dozens of al-Qa'ida fighters who Washington believes to be in the Pankisi Gorge region of northern Georgia close to Chechnya, where Russia has been fighting a bloody war with separatist rebels for most of the past decade.

Moscow has long maintained the Chechen war is largely fuelled by Islamic extremists, some of them Afghanistan-trained al-Qa'ida operatives. But at this point the US-Russian anti-terror partnership begins to unravel.

Russia is already worried about America's increased military presence in central Asia. It wants a joint Russian/Georgian operation to tackle the problem. But Georgia's fragile government is deeply suspicious of Russia, while its President, Eduard Shevardnadze, is America's strongest friend in the region.

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