Staunton, January 28 – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement this week that ISIS is using Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge as a base for destabilizing the entire Caucasus is a clear indication that Moscow is laying the groundwork for another invasion of Georgia and doing so in a way that may be hard for some Western governments to oppose.
Representatives of the Islamic State, Lavrov said on Tuesday, “are using this isolated territory in order to train, rest and fill their ranks.” That constitutes “a terrorist threat” and is the major reason that Moscow has rejected the idea of a visa-free regime for Georgian citizens (tass.ru/politika/2615018).
The foreign minister’s charge attracted enormous attention in Moscow and denials by Tbilisi. Georgian Prime Minister Georgy Kvirikashvili said that there was no basis for Lavrov’s claims and that the Georgian authorities “completely control” the Pankisi Gorge. Consequently, “no terrorist risks exist there.”
But that denial has not stopped the flood of Russian commentaries on this “threat,” an indication that at least some in Moscow view it at a minimum as another way to isolate and put pressure on Tbilisi or at a maximum as laying the foundation for a new Russian military strike, one that because it would be nominally against ISIS, the West might not oppose.
In a detailed article today on the Svobodnaya pressa portal, Moscow journalist Anton Mardasov surveys this discussion, pointing out that it has roots in the past and that it points to problems for Georgia and other countries in the South Caucasus far beyond the Gorge itself (svpressa.ru/war21/article/141067/