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Georgia: Putin Says U.S. Deployment Is 'No Tragedy'

Tbilisi, 1 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin says the planned deployment of U.S. military personnel in neighboring Georgia would be "no tragedy." Putin, speaking at a summit of former Soviet republics near Almaty, in Kazakhstan, said Russia recognizes the right of every state to carry out the security policy it considers right. But he said the Georgian leadership should have kept Russia informed of the U.S. plans.

"There is not, and cannot be any tragedy in this [U.S. presence]. If it is possible in the Central Asian states, then why should it not be allowed in Georgia? The problem is not [their presence]. The problem is that, in this case, we did not know about it," Putin said.

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, speaking at the same summit, dismissed suggestions Georgia has failed to keep Russia informed of the plans. He said that Georgia is "not hiding anything" from Russia.

A senior Georgian defense official said today that U.S. military instructors will arrive in March to train security forces to battle Al-Qaeda militants believed to be hiding in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge region. Official Mirian Kiknadze said the precise arrival date has still to be set.

Russia has previously said the deployment of U.S. personnel in Georgia will only aggravate the situation in the region. Russia says Chechen rebels use the Pankisi Gorge to launch attacks on Russian troops in neighboring Chechnya.