THE KEY TO PANKISI: POLITICAL WILL

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THE KEY TO PANKISI: POLITICAL WILL

Trud, September 6, 2002, EV

President Vladimir Putin sent a memorandum to Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze yesterday, on current issues in Russian-Georgian relations. It was a response to Shevardnadze’s recent message to Putin.

Putin says Russia is consistently following its traditional policy of developing friendly, neighborly relations with Georgia. However, Russia is seriously concerned by the situation in the Pankisi Gorge, where a considerable number of armed Chechen guerrillas and international terrorists have taken refuge. All issues of maintaining internal stability in Georgia are indisputably the exclusive concern of the Georgian government. In the interests of furthering general security in the region, Russia is prepared to cooperate in this; but only in the event of a direct request from the Georgian government.

Putin says that political will on the part of Georgia’s leaders and decisive action to eliminate the threat of militants in the Pankisi Gorge are necessary to effectively stamp out this hotbed of terrorism. Tbilisi’s tactics of “peacefully pressuring” the Chechen guerrillas to move in the direction of the Russian border are unacceptable.

RUSSIA AND BELARUS: TIME FOR DECISIONS

Trud, September 6, 2002, EV

Russia has not changed its goal of unification with Belarus. President Vladimir Putin has sent a memorandum to President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, delivered to Minsk by First Deputy Foreign Minister Valery Loshchinin. The memorandum emphasizes that expanding broad integrational links between Russia and Belarus remains a priority in Russia’s policy.

Putin confirms that in specific terms, the basic options for further progress on Russia-Belarus unification are as follows: complete integration into a single state; a formation along the lines of the European Union; and work on unification based on the principles in the existing agreement on creating a union state. Putin proposes to set up a joint working group to thoroughly analyze all aspects of each of these models of integration, and determine which of them is the most promising.

The main emphasis must continue to be developing the economic component of Russia-Belarus links, based on recently-signed and forthcoming agreements on forming a unified economic, customs, and taxation territory and bringing the economies of Russia and Belarus closer together. Putin expects to receive a response from Belarus soon to the specific proposals he delivered to Lukashenko in Moscow on August 14, on speeding up the process of introducing a common currency.

In the meantime, Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev said: “Putin’s proposed three options for creating a unified state seem constructive. Now, in the lead-up to 2003, we have reached the stage where we need to decide precisely which model will eventually be implemented, in the interests of the citizens of Russia and Belarus.”

Yesterday President Lukashenko received Alexander Blokhin, Russia’s ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Belarus. Lukashenko said: “Belarus will always be an acknowledged, tried and tested and reliable ally of the Russian people; we value and will honor the agreement which currently exists.”

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