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Russia: Putin -- U.S. Must Join Moscow To Fight Terrorism In Georgia

Moscow, 24 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. should cooperate with Moscow in helping Georgia root out armed militants allegedly linked to the Al-Qaeda terrorists, or risk failure. Addressing reporters in the Kremlin, Putin reiterated claims that Chechen armed separatists were hiding in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, a northeastern area close to the Russian border.

"No one -- neither American Special Forces troops nor specially trained Georgian crack units -- will ever solve the problem of Pankisi-based terrorists without the direct and active participation of Russia's secret services and Special Forces units."

Putin also said that, although Russia has "enough resources" to cope with Pankisi-based Chechen fighters, it can do nothing without Georgia.

Earlier this year, the U.S. dispatched military instructors to Georgia to train special troops for antiterrorist operations. Washington's claims that suspected Al-Qaeda militants have fled the anti-Taliban campaign in Afghanistan to find refuge in Pankisi have not been confirmed yet.

Moscow is generally unhappy with the U.S. initiative although it has said that there is "no tragedy" in it.

Putin today also said mop-up operations in Chechnya would not stop until the Moscow-based local administration is strong enough to restore law and order in the breakaway region.

Also at today's a press conference at the Kremlin Putin defended his pro-Western stance, saying his policies will improve Russia's economy and living standards.

Putin said that Russia's most important task is the development of the economy. When asked about the benefits of Russia's new partnerships with Western countries, Putin said that developing international relations, increasing foreign trade, and opening markets will have a direct positive impact on Russians' standard of living.

Putin called for Russia's speedy acceptance into the World Trade Organization as a necessary condition for improving foreign trade.

The president also addressed Western military expansion, saying that Russia will not oppose NATO membership for candidate countries Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. But he said he does not believe NATO membership will improve the security situation in those countries.