Vladimir Putin: First of all, I would like to thank the President of Georgia, Eduard Amvrosievich Shevardnadze, for coming here in spite of the tragedy which I have already mentioned. The Secretary of the Russian Security Council Vladimir Rushailo is going to Tbilisi for the funeral of his Georgian counterpart. We have paid a good deal of attention to bilateral contacts on a whole range of issues: interaction in the economic sphere and in the humanitarian field. But above all we have of course talked about cooperation in the fight against terror, and our interaction in the resolution of conflicts in the post-Soviet space, including the situation in Abkhazia. You know the position of the Russian Federation, and I can repeat it. We come out for the integrity of Georgia and this is our fundamental stand. We support the relative initiatives at the UN Security Council, and Eduard Amvrosievich Shevardnadze has just recalled that we have backed the relative resolutions. We intend to work with Georgia in a similar vein, providing of course that in dealing with the complicated situations we have inherited from the past the interests of all the ethnic groups living in this region are taken into account.
Secondly, there is the problem connected with the training of Georgian special counterterrorist units. Eduard Amvrosievich Shevardnadze told me that several American experts have arrived in Georgia and, by agreement with the Georgian authorities, they will train the special forces to fight terrorism. In connection with the adverse reaction amongst the public and the media I can make the following comment. As I have said before, we support the efforts of the international community in fighting terrorism. If today terrorism is being challenged in the Pankisi Gorge, this is heartening news for us, whoever takes part in it – our American or European partners, or our Georgian colleagues. I have already noted that over the past months and weeks we have been improving our interaction with the security and other military structures in Georgia. I think this is a positive trend and of course I attribute it to the position of the Georgian President.
How does one account for such a public reaction in Russia to the reports about the appearance of American specialists in Georgia? Clearly, when we were discussing the problems of the fight against terror in Afghanistan we were from the outset involved in this operation, we rendered assistance and continue to render assistance. You have only to look at the position of Russia and Afghanistan on the map. It affects our interests, but not directly on the borders of Russia. When we speak about such regions as the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, and we understand the President’s concern about what is happening there today, we are mindful of the fact that it is not only in the immediate proximity of our borders, but is practically on our border. We are mindful of the fact that the bandits and terrorists who committed bloody crimes in Russia and, from our information, are preparing more such crimes, are there. What will happen to them? How will they change their plans after troops from other countries have appeared there, and if the Georgian side intends to act vigorously? What will happen in Russia, won’t we see new explosions in market places and so on? That is what worries Russia and the Russian public.
We have agreed with the President of Georgia that we will not only intensify the contacts of our special services, but will make them more substantive. The Georgian President has assured me that we are talking about three or four special service personnel from the US Army, specialists who will be training Georgian special units. And overall, the President said we may be speaking about 15–20 servicemen from other countries, notably from the United States.
I would like to recall the statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry made by Igor Ivanov, who is a pupil, by the way, of Eduard Shevardnadze, as we have recalled today. Igor Sergeyevich Ivanov was an assistant to Eduard Amvrosievich Shevardnadze when the latter was the Foreign Minister of the USSR. The statement expressed our concern over the unsettled situation in Abkhazia. Of course we understand the concern of that part of the Russian public who are watching very closely what is happening there. We agree with Eduard Amvrosievich Shevardnadze that an increased effort to build national armed forces in the fight against terror, including in the Pankisi Gorge, does not mean that Georgia intends to solve the political problems in Abkhazia in that way. The Georgian President has repeatedly declared and he has confirmed it today in conversation with me that he regards the problem of Abkhazia as a political problem and that Georgia intends to solve it exclusively by political means.
All this gives me grounds for believing and declaring with confidence that our meeting today has been very useful and I would like to thank the Georgian President again for providing us with such an opportunity, and for the results that have been achieved today.