Christian-Democratic Movement, a leading party in the parliamentary minority, said on October 27, that a group consisting of representatives from foreign diplomatic missions, media and analysts would likely pay a fact-finding visit to Pankisi gorge this week.
MP Nika Laliashvili of CDM said such visit was required in order to disavow recent groundless allegations by Russia that Georgia was assisting militants to infiltrate into Russia’s North Caucasus republics.
Chief of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Bortnikov, claimed on October 13, that the Georgian secret services were assisting “Al Qaeda emissaries” in arranging sending of fighters and arms in Chechnya and Dagestan. The allegation was strongly denied by officials and political leaders in Tbilisi and described as Russia’s attempt to prepare a ground for possible provocations against Georgia.
Irakli Alasania, leader of opposition Alliance for Georgia, called on the authorities last week “to immediately undertake pre-emptive steps” and organize trip of foreign diplomats and journalists to Pankisi gorge. “Let this group also meet with local population and law enforcement officers, who will brief [the fact-finding group] about situation on the ground. It should be done as soon as possible,” Alasania said in an interview with the Georgian weekly, Kviris Palitra, published on October 19.
Pankisi gorge in north-eastern Georgian mountainous region, close to the Russian border, was a major irritant in Russo-Georgian relations for several years starting from late 2001. Over 7,000 Chechen refugees settled in Pankisi gorge shortly after the second war was launched in Chechnya in 1999. Their number dwindled since then and currently there are about 1,000 Chechen refugees in Pankisi gorge.
In January 2002 the Georgian authorities admitted that Pankisi gorge was a safe haven for militants and criminal gangs, engaged in kidnappings and drug trafficking. As a result the Georgian Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Security launched a joint anti-criminal operation. One local resident was killed after, as Tbilisi claimed, Russian jet dropped a bomb in Pankisi gorge in August, 2002. In 2003 the Georgian authorities announced that the anti-criminal operation was over and the gorge was no longer a safe haven for militants and criminals. The issue of Pankisi gorge, accompanied by Russia’s allegations of harboring militants, was reemerging only sporadically since then.
MP Giorgi Targamadze, leader of CDM and of parliamentary minority, also called a meeting of the Parliamentary commission, known as Group of Confidence. The group is in charge of monitoring defense spending, including related to top secret projects, as well as discussing sensitive security issues.
“We believe that these [allegations by Russia] are aimed at justifying of provocations. Hence risk of military escalation against Georgia is increasing,” MP Giorgi Targamadze said.