Thursday 24 April 2008

Russia, Georgia trade accusations over spy plane, Abkhazia before UN meeting

The Associated Press April 23, 2008

MOSCOW: Russia and Georgia traded new accusations before a U.N. Security Council meeting, with Moscow saying Tbilisi violated U.N. resolutions by using unmanned planes to spy on the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Georgia on Tuesday accused Russia of beginning a military buildup and of moving to annex the Black Sea region, which has had de-facto independence for more than a decade.

In a statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry denied Georgian accusations that a Russian fighter jet shot down a spy plane over the weekend, saying that the Israeli-made Hermes pilotless craft was shot down by Abkhazian air defenses.

That appears to contradict Abkhazia's defense officials, who said that one of their L-39 jets brought down the plane.

Georgia said video taken by the spy plane clearly shows a Russian MiG-29 jet — a jet Georgia's air force commander said that neither Abkhazia nor Georgia has. Georgia also said radar showed the jet took off from a former Russian air base in Abkhazia and flew into Russian air space after shooting down the spy plane.
Still, Russia said the flight was a violation of international law.

"The flight taken by a reconnaissance aircraft, which could also be used to direct fire, is a violation of the Moscow agreement on the cease-fire of May 14, 1994, as well as relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions," the ministry said.

Georgia is pressing the United Nations to take up its claims of Russian military aggression in Abkhazia and the Security Council was scheduled to hold a closed-door meeting Wednesday to discuss Georgia's accusations.

Georgia's Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze was in Britain on Tuesday, for meeting with lawmakers, officials and media, seeking international repudiation of the weekend incident.

Abkhazia and another region, South Ossetia, have had de-facto independence since breaking away from Georgian government control in the 1990s.

Russia has tacitly supported the regions' autonomy, granting their residents citizens, supporting the ruble as the currency of choice and other measures. President Vladimir Putin recently ordered his government to increase cooperation with both regions, and lifted trade restrictions for companies doing business there. Those moves have incensed the Georgian leadership.

Russia also is vociferously opposed to Georgia's efforts to join NATO, and has been wary of Tbilisi's moves to tighten ties with the United States.

Putin and his Georgian counterpart, Mikhail Saakashvili, discussed the spy plane incident on Monday, in what Saakashvili termed a "very difficult conversation." The Kremlin said Putin expressed bewilderment at the fact that Georgia was using spy planes over Abkhazia.

On Tuesday, ITAR-Tass quoted an unnamed Russian air force official as saying it would absurd to use a MiG fighter jet to shoot down a spy plane: "You could shoot it down with a slingshot. Abkhazia has enough of its own anti-aircraft tools to complete that mission."

But Georgia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that video evidence proved a MiG jet took off from the former Russian air base at Gudauta to shoot down the spy plane and that the MiG then flew on into Russian air space.

"The Russian Federation has ... begun an alarming military build up in the conflict region," it said. "The recent steps of the Russian Federation are clearly directed toward the annexation of a part of sovereign territory of Georgia."

Earlier this year, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia appealed to the world community to recognize them as independent. Both cited Kosovo as a precedent.

In Abkhazia, the region's leader, Sergei Bagapsh, again echoed that precedent in an address to the region's residents.

"A precedent, on the basis of which Abkhazia can even more persistently claim its rights, has been created," Bagapsh said.

"Having recognized Kosovo, the international community has opened a new page in history, where there should be a place for the independent state of Abkhazia," he said.

Associated Press writers Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, and Ruslan Khasig in Sukhumi, Georgia, contributed to this report.
Video: ''Georgia behind Abkhazia tensions: Putin'' - Russia Today

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