Russia: ISIL training base located in Georgia's Pankisi

Georgian prime minister rejects Russian foreign minister's claim, saying government is in control of troubled region.

    Russia: ISIL training base located in Georgia's Pankisi
    The Pankisi region is known as a hot spot for ISIL's recruitment of fighters for the war in Syria [David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters]

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Moscow has intelligence showing that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group is operating a training base in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia, a claim immediately denied by Tbilisi. 

    Lavrov made the allegation at his annual press conference on Tuesday, saying "ISIL militants are using this hardly accessible territory to train, rest and replenish their supplies".

    Long-running volatility in the Pankisi region previously led to Russia imposing visa restrictions on Georgian citizens in 2000. More recently, the area has been known as a hot spot for ISIL's recruitment of fighters to take part in the war in Syria.

    Despite his claims about the ISIL base, Lavrov also said on Tuesday that he was ready to meet his Georgian counterpart to start restoring diplomatic ties, which were severed after the five-day war in 2008 over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia.

    Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili responded to Lavrov's claims, denying the existence of an ISIL base inside Georgian borders and saying that his government was in full control of the Pankisi Gorge.

    "A few people from this Gorge went to Syria to fight in the Islamic State, though a strict control is imposed on their entry back to [Georgia]," Kvirikashvili said.

    "I can directly say that there is no terrorist threat in the Pankisi Gorge at the present time."

    He also responded to Russia's recent move to simplify visa requirements for Georgian citizens, saying it was "a very positive decision".

    READ MORE: Why Georgians in a remote Pankisi valley are joining ISIL

    But he said the restoration of diplomatic relations with Moscow would come with preconditions relating to "the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia".

    The relationship between Russia and Georgia has been tense since former pro-West president Mikheil Saakashvili came to power in Tbilisi in 2003.

    The tension started to bubble over in 2006 when Moscow imposed an embargo on Georgian wine and mineral water imports and used cargo planes to deport thousands of Georgians.

    The confrontation led to a five-day war over Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia in 2008.

    Georgia's current government started making efforts to improve the relationship with Russia after it came to power in 2012, but diplomatic ties remain to be forged.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    Why America's Russia hysteria is dangerous

    Why America's Russia hysteria is dangerous

    The US exaggerating and obsessing about foreign threats seems quite similar to what is happening in Russia.

    Heron Gate mass eviction: 'We never expected this in Canada'

    Hundreds face mass eviction in Canada's capital

    About 150 homes in one of Ottawa's most diverse and affordable communities are expected to be torn down in coming months