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Georgia Decries 'Continuous Violation' Of Its Airspace

(RFE/RL) August 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Georgia has called on the international community and Russia to jointly investigate what it calls the “continuous violation” of its airspace this week, including one that has led Tbilisi to investigate claims of a downed military jet in the Kodori Gorge.

Russia‘s Air Force has strongly denied Georgia’s suggestions that downed jet was Russian, while Abkhazia is suggesting it was Georgian -- or even a U.S. spy plane.

The developments follow the confirmation by a Georgian official that “warning shots” were fired at an aircraft believed to be a Russian military plane flying over Georgian airspace in Upper Abkhazia. Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told RFE/RL today the shots were fired on the evening of August 21, but could not confirm if the plane was hit.

The Kodori Gorge straddles Georgian-controlled Upper Abkhazia and the pro-Russian breakaway region of Abkhazia.

"Georgia still cannot confirm the fact that a plane went down [on its territory],” Utiashvili told RFE/RL by telephone upon returning from the region. “We again confirm that a foreign aircraft entered our airspace, and call upon Russia and international community to take part in the investigation, so that it becomes possible to determine what really happened.”

New Allegations

Today, the Georgian Foreign Ministry’s website published a statement saying that from August 20-22, the "continuous violation of Georgian airspace was observed by the radars of the Defense Ministry and eyewitnesses“ in Upper Abkhazia.

Utiashvili explained that “these planes entered from, and returned to, Russia, therefore we think they were Russian planes. This is why we want Russia to take part in the investigation."

The head of the Russian Air Force's public relations service earlier today strongly denied that Russian jets violated Georgian territory. "All our jets were at the airdromes at the time when the ostensible intrusion into Georgian airspace took place,“ Itar-Tass quoted Aleksandr Drobyshevsky as saying. He added that Air Force jets "didn't make any flights in the area."

The de facto foreign minister of Abkhazia, Sergei Shamba, meanwhile confirmed today that an unidentified plane went down over its territory this week.

"We believe it was a Georgian plane," Shamba told Reuters. "It has in the past repeatedly violated our airspace. It went down by itself, no one downed it." He said the plane came from the Black Sea and went down in the mountains of Upper Abkhazia.

Interfax today quoted the head of Abkhazia's general staff, Anatoly Zaitsev, as saying the aircraft might have been a U.S. spy plane.

Number Of Incidents

The latest claims are likely to add to existing hostilities between Tbilisi and Moscow. Irakli Alasania, the Georgian ambassador to the UN, on August 22 said his country was determined to resist Russia's tactics.

Earlier this month, on August 6, Georgia alleged that a Russian plane dropped a 4.8-meter Kh-58 antiradar missile in a field outside a village near Georgia's border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The missile did not explode and caused no injuries.

Russia rejected those claims as "politically motivated" fabrications. Two teams of military experts from Western countries have given preliminary backing to Georgia's claims, however.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has said that Georgia's missile claims are a ploy to undermine relations with Moscow and draw closer to NATO.

Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kuteliya said this week that his country's radars will soon be integrated into NATO's radar system. He said recent alleged violations of Georgian airspace by Russian warplanes had speeded up the effort.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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