- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Republic of Georgia’s government voiced new worries on Wednesday that recent terrorist bombings in Moscow will be used as a pretext for renewed aggression by Russian forces against the country.

Meanwhile, Islamist rebels from the Russian enclave of Chechnya claimed credit for Sunday’s subway suicide bombings, which killed 39 people, as two more terrorist bombings in Russia’s North Caucasus claimed 12 lives.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Giga Bokeria, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, said he was concerned by recent comments from senior Russian officials suggesting that Georgia was behind the Moscow subway blasts carried out by two female suicide bombers who blew themselves up during the rush-hour attacks.

“I hope it is not the case, but these allegations certainly raise alarms that Russia would use the subway attacks as a pretext to target Georgia,” Mr. Bokeria said by telephone from Geneva.

The deputy foreign minister referred specifically to comments from Nikolai Patrushev, the current secretary of Russia’s national security council and the former chief of the Russian FSB, the domestic spy organization that replaced part of the former Soviet Union’s KGB.

On Wednesday, the Russian newspaper Kommersant published an interview with Mr. Patrushev, who said, “We have had information that individual members of Georgian special forces support contacts with terrorist organizations in the Russian North Caucasus. We must check this also in relation to the acts of terror in Moscow.”

Moscow in the past has accused Georgia of harboring al Qaeda terrorists and for working covertly with Chechen militants.

Mr. Bokeria said there was no truth to those allegations and pointed out that Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili offered his condolences for the attack on Monday.

Mr. Patrushev said in the interview that Mr. Saakashvili’s “behavior is unpredictable.”

On Wednesday, a Chechen rebel leader, Doku Umarov, posted an Internet video claiming credit for the attacks in Moscow. The claim of responsibility was posted only hours after another attack in Dagestan killed 12 people.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the Dagestan attacks and the Moscow subway attacks were “links of the same chain.”

Dagestan and Chechnya are regions of the restive Russian North Caucusus in southern Russia. The regions share a border with the Republic of Georgia, a former Soviet state that is now an independent country.

In August 2008, Russian forces invaded the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and subsequently recognized both provinces as independent nations, despite protests from the United Nations and NATO. About 12,000 Russian forces remain in those territories. In the past year, Russia has built bases on the territory in defiance of a French-brokered cease-fire.

The short war severely damaged Georgia’s military forces and sent political shock waves throughout the region and Europe.

Svante Cornell, the research director of the Central Asia Caucuses Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said the recent accusations from Moscow are part of a “dangerous pattern.”

“If you take these new allegations in the context of Russia having built bases on occupied Georgian territory in violation of the 2008 cease-fire agreement; the planned Russian purchase of the Mistral-class amphibious warships from France and the Russian government’s continued denouncement of the elected Georgian leadership, you see a dangerous pattern emerging,” he said.

Mr. Bokeria said that in negotiations in Geneva over the South Ossetia and Abkhazia dispute, he has in the past offered to discuss any concerns with the Russian deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin.

But Mr. Karasin did not respond to the offer, Mr. Bokeria said.

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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