West not fooled by Russia- Chechen leader

mmw kaliyuga at humboldt1.com
Sat Feb 16 09:29:24 MST 2002


McDonald Stainsby posted:

> By Peter Graff
>
> MOSCOW, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Moscow has failed to convince the West the war
> in Chechnya is part of a global fight against terrorism, despite
> increasingly noisy rhetoric since September 11, the region's elected rebel
> leader said.

That may be, but Stratfor recently posted the following.  The U.S. may
indeed find it convenient to see linkage between al Qaeda and the Chechen
rebels, especially if it affords a cover for U.S. troups in Georgia.

al Qaeda:  They're everywhere we want to be.

U.S. Seeing Chechens Russia's Way May Be to Putin's Chagrin

Summary

The acting U.S. ambassador to Georgia has selectively linked
Russia's Chechen rebellion to Osama bin Laden. The statement
hands Russia a potentially poisoned reward for its cooperation in
the war on terrorism. Depending on how the Moscow-Washington
relationship evolves, Russia either will be able to pursue
Chechen militants based in Georgia proper with a free hand -- a
longtime goal -- or be forced to accept a U.S. deployment to
Georgia, Moscow's nightmare scenario.

Analysis

Philip Ramler, the acting U.S. ambassador to the former Soviet
state of Georgia, selectively linked Russia's Chechen rebellion
to Osama bin Laden in an interview published Feb. 11. The Achali
Versiya newspaper quoted him as saying that "a few dozen
mujahideen fighters from Afghanistan have appeared in the
Caucasus region. ... We know that several mujahideen have taken
cover in the Pankisi Gorge and are in contact with the Arab
terrorist Khattab, who in turn has contacts with Osama bin
Laden."

Khattab is the nom de guerre of a Jordanian-born militant
affiliated with Chechen fighters. The statement hands Russia,
which has long sought to link the Chechens to bin Laden's al
Qaeda network, a potentially poisoned reward for its assistance
in Washington's war against al Qaeda. Depending on how the
Moscow-Washington relationship evolves, Russia either will be
able to pursue Chechen militants based in Georgia proper with
impunity -- a long-standing goal -- or be forced to accept a U.S.
deployment to Georgia, Moscow's nightmare scenario.

This double-edged scenario will be one more test of Russia's
commitment to the United States and to the West. Although
President Vladimir Putin was swift to declare himself an ally in
the U.S.-led war against terrorism, payoffs to his country have
so far been slow to materialize.

Until recently, both Tbilisi and Washington maintained that
Russia's conflict with the Chechens -- and in particular with
Chechens in the Pankisi Gorge -- was unrelated to any
international Islamic network. Ramler's statements seem to say
that Washington now stands convinced of a connection.

This is even more evident when the ambassador's words are
combined with recent admissions from Tbilisi. Georgian Security
Minister Valery Khaburdzania said Feb. 6 on Georgian television
that Chechen warlord Ruslan Gelayev, who like Khattab is sought
by Russian forces, was probably in the Pankisi Gorge. The gorge
is home to Georgia's native Chechen minority as well as roughly
7,000 refugees from Russia's Chechen conflict. Three days later,
Khaburdzania announced that Georgian security forces had detained
several Saudi and Jordanian citizens, supposedly linked to al
Qaeda, who were allegedly trying to create a terrorist base in
the Pankisi from which to launch attacks on Russia.

However, Ramler's statements are both boon and bane to Moscow.

Although he was careful to differentiate between Chechen
independence fighters and al Qaeda-linked mujahideen such as
Khattab, he broadly vindicated the Russian position in the
Chechen war. That tacit endorsement empowers Moscow to either
push Tbilisi to take forceful action against Chechens in the
Pankisi or else allow Russian forces to take matters into their
own hands.

The admission might ultimately be used against Russia's
interests, however. U.S. President George W. Bush clearly stated
in his State of the Union address that he would strike at
terrorists in places where governments either would not or could
not rout them. Georgia, where two regions are already completely
beyond central control, is a clear candidate for such
intervention.

It is a willing one as well. Tbilisi has tried, and failed, for
years to get international forces stationed on its soil to
bolster its independence from Russia. With the Pankisi declared
an al Qaeda hot spot -- with Moscow's blessing -- the United
States now has a rationale to station troops at former Russian
bases within Georgia. Vaziani, a base just outside Tbilisi that
Russian forces abandoned in 2001, would fit the bill almost
perfectly.

Ramler's statements give the United States a new set of options
for dealing with al Qaeda, Tbilisi and Moscow.

For Tbilisi, his words make clear the price of toeing the U.S.
line at a time when most of Washington's allies are publicly
challenging Bush's "axis of evil" stance. While European allies
can hem, haw and gripe about U.S. hegemony from a secure
position, Washington could sell Georgian President Eduard
Shevardnadze out to the Russians if he so much as arches a bushy
eyebrow.

For Moscow, the issue is leverage. The presence of U.S. troops in
Georgia would be far more threatening to Russia's long-term
interests than comparable deployments to Central Asia. There is
little Russia could do to stop the United States if it chooses to
intervene in Georgia. Putting U.S. troops into Georgia -- which
borders NATO ally Turkey -- could presage Georgian membership in
the alliance itself. That puts Russia in the awkward position of
needing to please the United States -- its "ally" in the war on
terrorism -- in order to avoid being flanked by NATO, its Cold
War foe.

Moreover, it means Washington could dangle Georgia as a prize --
or a hammer -- as it considers military action against Iraq.
Moscow firmly opposes any new military action against Baghdad.
All of Iraq's other friends, however, have fallen away for their
own reasons, leaving Moscow alone behind Saddam Hussein.

As for al Qaeda: Whether it is Moscow or Washington that takes
action in the Pankisi, its militants will be left with one less
place to hide.



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