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5 May, 2008 17:52

Georgia pulls out of air-defence treaty with Russia

Georgia is pulling out of an air-defence agreement with Russia. Tbilisi announced the move after Moscow accused it of violating existing agreements by sending spy planes into the airspace of Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Earlier Monday, the unrecognised republic said it spotted another drone over its territory but decided not to shoot it down.

Batu Kutelia, Georgia’s Deputy Defence Minister, said his country “has withdrawn from the CIS treaty which was designed to create a joint air-defence system of the CIS countries”.

“The reasoning for this move is first of all political and then technical. In terms of political reasoning, Georgia has already declared that we are not participating in any form of military or military technical co-operation within the CIS format,” he said.

The treaty between the Georgia, Russia and 10 other CIS countries was signed in 1995.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tbilisi’s actions were increasing tension and causing concern in Moscow.

“Georgia's course is designed to undermine all agreements, in particular the settlement of the Georgian-Ossetian and Georgian-Abkhazian conflicts,” he said.

The war of words has escalated, following a series of incidents on the ground and in the air.

Abkazhian forces shot down four unmanned spy planes flying over its territories in the past few months, claiming they belonged to Georgia and were flying over the region in breach of existing agreements.

On Sunday, two spy planes were shot down. Abkhazian officials showed a video recording to journalists apparently of the remains of the downed drones.

And on Monday, another reconnaissance aircraft was detected, but not shot, according to Abkhazia.

Georgia says it will not stop its planes flying over the region, as it considers Abkhazia part of its territory. However Tbilisi denies involvement in Sunday's incident.

Earlier, the Abkhazian government said Georgia could launch a military operation against its breakaway republic in the next few days. Russia had also said Georgia is increasing its military presence on the border of Abkhazia in preparation for an offensive.

According to the republic’s military, Georgia has sent more than 7,000 soldiers and heavy military equipment to the unofficial border.

The reports have also been backed by a source within the Russian defenсe establishment.

Russia is ready to respond to any attempts by Tbilisi to use force. Earlier this week Moscow increased the number of peacekeepers in the region to 3,000.

While Abkazia said it was glad to see more peacekeepers, Georgia opposed the move.

Political analyst Vladimir Kotlyar says Russia has a very clear-cut role in the conflict.

“They are peacekeepers. Their job is to ensure that Georgians and Abkhazians remain on their own side of the border, and there are no military conflicts,” Kotlyar said.