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Aug. 09, 2007
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Russian Missile Reaches UN
// Georgia seeks UN support over an alleged Russian missile attack
Georgia called Wednesday night for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to condemn an alleged Russian missile attack on a village outside Tbilisi. The Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday described the initiative as “a PR move.” Tbilisi, however, has so far been successful in a diplomatic and media war against Russia. The U.S. Department of State, in its turn, took the opportunity to voice its concern about Russia’s policy in Georgia.
“We are calling on the UN Security Council to investigate this outrageous incident on a high level,” Irakly Chikovani, Georgia’s envoy to the UN, said. “We have incontrovertible evidence that Russian aircrafts attacked Georgian territory. The Security Council has to be resolute in condemning an attack on the territory of a sovereign country.” Georgia thus attracted attention of the international community to the dispute around a Russian missile which was found 60 kilometers of the capital Tbilisi on Monday.

Georgia first tried to involve the West into the row with Moscow on Tuesday as Tbilisi lashed out at the Russian Air Force for violating its airspace. Georgia’s Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili held several meetings with ambassadors in Tbilisi and explained his country’s stance to NATO Deputy Secretary General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo and EU officials.

The efforts paid off as Washington was fast to throw its support behind Tbilisi authorities. “The United States condemns the August 6 rocket attack against Georgia,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a strongly worded statement. “We praise Georgia’s continuing restraint in the face of this air attack and call for the urgent clarification of the facts surrounding the incident. We call on all relevant parties to cooperate with the investigations by Georgia and the OSCE.” The U.S. spokesman stopped short of accusing Russia directly but soon switched off to the overall situation in the region. “In the past, the Russian government has conducted some aerial raids that have resulted in bombs being dropped or shots being fired in Georgian territory,” he noted.

U.S. officials tend to link tension in South Ossetia with slow progress in settling the conflict in the region. The United States has clearly demonstrated it is not happy with the Kremlin-led peace settlement. Sean McCormack also dropped a hint that Washington is ready to support Georgia at the Security Council. “We’ll talk to the Georgians about what they have in mind. But clearly, any sort of incursion into sovereign territory is something we would condemn.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not issue an official comment on Georgian’s UN proposal but Russian diplomats called Tbilisi’s initiative a “PR move.” The Kremlin, however, did not sneeze at the threat to put the air raid question to discussion at the Security Council. A Kommersant source in the Foreign Ministry reported that the matter was under consideration the whole day on Thursday. “We would not really mind the issue to be considered at international instances, but not now,” the source in the Foreign Ministry said. “This should be done after the objective investigation is over.”

The OSCE-led probe at the site of the incident has so far been unable to clarify the situation. The OSCE mission in Tbilisi said it has “established for certain that the rocket was manufactured in Russia, but it is too early to make other facts public.”

The Georgian Defense Ministry has already voiced its own theory of the incident. “The rocket was fired out by a Russia Su-24 aircraft to destroy our radar station outside the village of Tsitelubani which is able to monitor the sky of South Ossetia, Georgia’s Air Defense spokesman Colonel Zurab Pochkhua told reporters Thursday. He explained that as soon as the jet appeared above the radar, the station’s commander was instructed to turn it off, which “saved lives of the station crew as well as expensive equipment.” Georgian military, however, took aim at the Russian jet despite the station’s halt. “We did not venture to launch a missile because of a great number of civil aircrafts above Georgia,” Colonel Pochkhua explained. “But the pilot realized that we were following him and decided to ditch a heavy missile to make the jet lighter and quickly fly over the Caucasus Range into Russia.”

Russian military see the situation in quite a different light. Russia’s General Staff chief Yuri Baluevsky, who attended the opening of the Peace Mission 2007 combat exercises in Umurqi on Thursday, lashed out at Tbilisi with direct accusation of “a provocation against Russia.” Russia’s Air Force Staff Chief Lieutenant-General Igor Khvorov vowed that Russian jets had not flown above Georgia. “Russia has enough grounds for training flights,” he said. “Georgia’s statements are merely politicized conjectures.” Commander of the Combined Peacekeeping Forces Marat Kulakhmetov said Thursday that he had informed Georgian authorities of an unidentified aircraft flying above the conflict zone. “I contacted Georgian officials of the Combined Peacekeeping Forces half an hour after the incident and informed of a plane in the area and a missile launch,” he said. “One hour later, I received a report from Georgia that their forces command denies any jet flying, which means Georgia kept silent about the violation of the state border for 14 hours.”

The Monday incident has disrupted plans to hold a session of the Joint Control Commission on Georgian-South Ossetian Conflict Resolution in Tbilisi on Thursday. The South Ossetian delegation walked out on Wednesday, citing security reasons. Kommersant sources explained that Tskhinvali was more afraid to see Tbilisi-backed South Ossetia’s administration chief Dmitry Sanakoev whose presence in Georgia’s delegation would give Tbilisi an opportunity to announce him an internationally recognized party in the conflict. Russia’s representative in the Joint Control Commission Yuri Popov expressed hope earlier this week that the session would be still held soon, but the Georgian Foreign Ministry rejected any talks after the Monday incident until “an act of military aggression” is investigated.

Yuri Popov reported Thursday that the session would be held no earlier than in late September. Georgia’s Conflict Resolution Minister David Bakradze is skeptical of this late date. “It is hard to predict what is going to happen within this month when we are dealing with this kind of partners,” he said, referring to Russia and South Ossetia. The minister stressed, however, that Tbilisi still supports activities of the governmental commission on conflict resolution where South Ossetia is represented by Dmitry Sanakoev instead of officials in the breakaway Tskhinvali.

The missile row is clearly capable of hampering activities of the Joint Control Commission, undermining an anticipated Russia-friendly solution for the South Ossetia issue. In the meantime, the Georgian state commission is reportedly going to come up with its own plan for South Ossetia settlement. The proposal at hand will make it easy for Tbilisi to persuade the world community that Georgia’s South Ossetia conflict resolution plan is far more effective than any option offered by the Kremlin.

Alexander Gabuev, Moscow, and Vladimir Novikov, Tbilisi

All the Article in Russian as of Aug. 10, 2007

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