Russia blocks UN debate on Georgian air incident

A team of Russian investigators are continuing with their visit to neighbouring Georgia in an effort to find out who was responsible for dropping a missile in the country a week ago. Russia denies involvement in the incident, saying its jets were not in t

Friday marks the second day of the Russian investigation of the missile incident in Georgia.

The team of high-level officials hopes to prove the missile, that was dropped on August 6 on the village of Tsitelubani, did not come from Russia.

“We have presented documents to the Georgian side which show and, I hope, prove the absence of any data or elements confirming that Georgian airspace was violated from the Russian side,”  Russian Foreign Ministry special representative Valery Kenyakin said.

Remains of missile
Remains of missile

The missile that was dropped near the Georgia-Ossetia border on the night of August 6 has ripped an enormous gash in the already weakened Russia-Georgia relations. Georgia holds Russia responsible for the incident, and has demanded an explanation. But Russia denies the allegations, calling them a provocation.

“I believe that it was yet another theatrical show. It was performed, but it wasn't staged professionally. At first, they called it a 'bomb' and then a 'missile'. At first, they said it was SU-24, then – SU-25. You may remember the TV shots from the scene where a bomb or a missile went deep under ground. That area was surrounded by so-called police tape and that tape was placed within two or three metres from the unexploded bomb. Just think about that. If a real bomb or a missile with an unexploded warhead was really there, then the police tape should have been placed at least 500 or 800 metres away, not within two metres of where the journalists were standing. If it had exploded, you may imagine what would have happened,” Sergey Ivanov, First Deputy Prime Minister, stated.

This statement was supported by Georgia's former Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili.

“I do not rule out that the bombardment of the territory near Tsitelubani was a show staged by Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili. Russia might be aggressive towards us, but taking into consideration the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, Russia would never commit such actions. Such schemes are typical for Vano Merabishvili, who is always finding a stinger missile or whatever,” she highlighted.

United peacekeeping forces in the region say their radars detected an unidentified plane crossing the Georgia border on the night of August 6th. When they informed the Georgian authorities of the incident, Tbilisi dismissed the information, giving no response.

We are looking forward to serious, constructive and substantive discussion with Georgian experts of this incident. It would be premature for the Council to take any kind of a stand on this matter. From the outset, unfortunately, the Georgian side has gone out of its way to create of sorts of noise around it and as a result there is a lot of conflicting information, evidence, and assertions surrounding this incident.
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Vitaly Churkin, Russia's Ambassador to UN

However, 16 hours later, Georgia erupted with allegations that a Russian plane had violated its airspace.

The peacekeepers also say that by the time the first team of experts arrived at the scene, all fragments of the missile had been removed, making it impossible to determine the missile's origin.

Tbilisi points to an independent report drafted by a Group of Experts from Sweden, the U.S., Latvia and Lithuania, which concludes that it was a Russian jet that violated Georgian airspace and fired a guided missile at Tsitelubani.

“The report confirms the correctness of all the information which we have and the correctness of all Georgian claims,” noted David Dondua from the Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Observers noted that three of the four experts came from NATO-member countries.

Georgia itself has expressed a desire to enter the Organisaion, a fact, which prompted Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin to question the impartiality of the experts.

“We are looking forward to serious, constructive and substantive discussion with Georgian experts of this incident. It would be premature for the Council to take any kind of a stand on this matter. From the outset, unfortunately, the Georgian side has gone out of its way to create of sorts of noise around it and as a result there is a lot of conflicting information, evidence, and assertions surrounding this incident. But from the outset we have been saying what is required is a thorough professional discussion and investigation between Russian and Georgian experts,” Mr Churkin commented.

Russia has blocked the United Nation's Security Council from holding a meeting and a voting session on the missile incident.

The Russian media are also suspicious of Georgia's claims and allege the situation was staged by Tbilisi to speed up the solution of the situation with its breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

Following Georgia's independence from the Soviet Union in 1992, the situation escalated as Ossetia sought independence from Tbilisi. Stability in the region has since been maintained by a joint Russian, Ossetian and Georgian peace-keeping force.

Georgia has long wanted to impose its control over the breakaway republic and has accused Russia of fuelling separatist sentiments in the region.

With the UN Security Council working on the problem of another breakaway region – Kosovo – it seems like Georgia is hoping to resolve its own problems.