Presidents of Russia and Georgia Vladimir Putin and Eduard Shevardnadze are expected to meet on Friday. Although the topics of upcoming talks have not been officially announced, RIA Novosti's diplomatic sources hinted that the conversation is likely to focus on the entire scope of Russian-Georgian relations, which were recently seriously aggravated by the situation in the Pankisi Gorge, where international terrorists and Chechen separatists are known to undergo training in special camps. It is generally believed that their presence in the gorge is encouraged by Georgian authorities. On the eve of Shevardnadze's departure for the Moscow-based jubilee summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States, official Tbilisi accused Russia of bombing the Pankisi Gorge, which Moscow furiously denied. According to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, what really happened in the gorge was a clash between Chechens and Arab merc! ! enaries, who quarrelled over a sum of money earned from drug sales. Reports about Russian aircraft bombing the gorge were in fact issued during this clash, said Ivanov, adding that the fighting had set off an explosion in the terrorists' ammunition depot. The position assumed by the Russian foreign ministry fully coincided with that of the defence ministry, with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announcing he had "nothing to add" to the defence ministry's official statement about the incident. In the meantime, RIA Novosti's sources suggested that the ballyhoo with the "violation of Georgia's air space by Russian aviation" could have been initiated by Georgian secret services with the purpose of upsetting Shevardnadze's visit to Moscow.
Russian small missile ships - the Grad Sviyazhsk and the Great Ustyug - set off for a mission to the Mediterranean Sea