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22 Jun, 2008 02:13

Moscow’s “tougher response” to Georgia over Abkhazia

A fresh row has erupted between Moscow and Tbilisi over Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, with Russia accusing its neighbour of provocation – and promising a tougher response.

It follows the arrest of four Russian servicemen by Georgian police last week.

The men were transporting anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades to their camp. Georgia says they acted illegally and the arrest was filmed by Georgia’s TV crews.

Now Russia warns its patience is wearing thin. President Dmitry Medevedev said: “We will not allow this type of treatment towards out peacekeepers. They are stationed on Georgian territory in accordance with an international agreement and are performing their mission with dignity and professionalism.”

Earlier this week, Russia’s military officials were even more specific. General Aleksandr Burutin, First Deputy Chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, said: “The Russian peacekeepers had a right to use weapons. But they practiced restraint to avoid casualties. We cannot guarantee that the servicemen will act as patiently as they did.”

The four servicemen have since been released. One of them, Roman Dolgalyov, says the peacekeepers were beaten up and had their weapons taken in what looked like a well-planned ambush.
Russia now wants the confiscated peacekeepers’ ammunition and vehicle, calling the incident a criminal attack.
Things heated up again last Wednesday when two explosions rocked a railroad platform in Abkhazia’s capital Sukhumi. No one was injured. Meanwhile, a Russian railroad battalion was recently deployed in the breakaway republic to help rebuild the region’s infrastructure.

Russian peacekeepers have now been in Abkhazia for the past 14 years. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the region declared its independence from Georgia. A bloody conflict with Tbilisi ended after a UN brokered ceasefire and Russian peacekeepers together with UN observers moved in. But Georgia wants the Russian peacekeepers out and has often accused the Kremlin of plans to annex the territory.