Russia denies dropping bomb on Georgia
The quiet Georgian village of Tsitelubani has become the epicentre of a new row between Russia and Georgia, after a 700-kilogramme missile ploughed its way five metres into a field there on Monday evening. The bomb did not explode.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has demanded an immediate investigation into the incident be carried out.
Accompanied by foreign diplomats, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili inspected the damage at the site and called on the international community to react. He also said Russia's “provocation” will not achieve its aim.
“This act is aimed at destabilising the situation in Georgia, causing panic, splitting the society and making the government of Georgia change its political course. But we will answer these provocations with calm and unity,” he stated.
Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vyacheslav Kovalenko, who received a note of protest from the country's Foreign Ministry, has rejected any Russian involvement in the alleged bombing.
“I don't have any information – ask those who organised the action. You are journalists, so it's your job to find out who did it. I rule out any involvement of the Russian side. I don't consider the photos from the spot an argument because such missiles and jets are spread across the world. The Georgian army also has SU-24 jets,” Mr Kovalenko commented.
Russian Air Force spokesman Aleksandr Drobyshevsky has called the Georgian accusations groundless.
This act is aimed at destabilising the situation in Georgia, causing panic, splitting the society and making the government of Georgia change its political course. But we will answer these provocations with calm and unity.
“Russian Air Force planes did not carry out any flights either on Monday evening or night, or on Tuesday morning. They did not violate the borders of the sovereign state of Georgia,” he stressed.
According to Russian military sources, the 700-kilogramme bomb that the Georgian government earlier said was dropped on its territory does not exist in Russia's Air Force weapons arsenal.
Meanwhile Georgia's ex-Foreign Minister, Salome Zurabishvili, does not rule out the possibility that the bomb was dropped by one of Georgia's own planes. She also said the attack might have been organised by Georgia's Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili.
The area where the incident allegedly took place, borders on Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia – an unrecognised republic, which has been striving for independence since the beginning of the 1990s.
Georgia's Interior Ministry says it has discovered a serial number and inscriptions in Russian on what it claims is a missile.
Specialists are said to be studying the possible trajectory of the supposed missile's descent.
Map of Georgia
Georgia's Interior Minister, Vano Merabishvili, says Russia committed “an act of aggression”.
“Georgia’s civil aviation radars registered that at 1420 GMT a SU-24 jet crossed the Georgian border. The jet dropped a guided air-to-surface missile at this exact place. At the moment specialists are defining the type and model of the missile. The radars also determined the speed and co-ordinates of the jet. It came from the Kazbegi region and went back in the direction of Russian territory. At the moment I assess this as an act of violation of the country's border committed by another state,” Vano Merabishvili stated.
The Commander of Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict region, Marat Kulakhmetov, says it's necessary to wait for the results of expert investigations before making any statements.
“The radars of the peacekeeping posts in the area registered the flight of a jet at 1840 local time on Monday. But too many questions arise as far as the pilot's actions, the trajectory of the flight and the fact of bombing are concerned. Operations carried out by bombers are usually very efficient. The diameter of the missile found proves it belonged to a bomber, so it's strange the consequences weren't far more serious,” Marat Kulakhmetov stated.
The missile was blown up later in the day in a controlled explosion. But the ramifications of this incident will be a lot less easy to predict.
The region itself is extremely unstable. Clashes in South Ossetia have been getting more and more frequent over the latest months.
The only thing that is obvious at the moment is that the incident will heighten already strained tensions in South Ossetia, and possibly it might lead to more violence. Russia-Georgia relations, which have also been strained for many months, now are likely to get worse.