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26 Aug, 2007 20:10

Russian Air Force rejects Georgian accusations

The situation remains unclear over the apparent shooting down of an aircraft in Georgia's breakaway Republic of Abkhazia. Abkhazian authorities confirm a plane has been shot down, but say it is likely that it was a Georgian scout plane.

The incident is said to have taken place on Wednesday. The Russian Air Force says no flights were carried out and the reports are a “provocation” by Georgia.

Russia-Georgia relations, already strained, are deteriorating further.

Georgian authorities claim they have shot down what they believe was a Russian military plane over the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia and are calling for international involvement in the incident.

“On August 20, 21, and 22 our radars and witnesses registered a trespassing of Georgia's airspace over the Kodori Gorge. On August 22 we fired warning shots at the aircraft. We call on the international community and on Russia to investigate this case,” Shota Hizanishvili, Georgian Interior Ministry representative, declared.

Russia vehemently denies the claims.

I am sure the plane does not belong to Russian armed forces since I know their equipment. Neither does it belong to Abkhazian forces. I believe it belongs to those who help Georgia.

Anatoly Zaitsev,
Abkhazian Military Chief of Staff

“It is another informational provocation aimed against us. Planes of the Russian Air Forces did not carry out flights along the Russia-Georgia border and did not violate the Georgian airspace. Flights in the area in question do not take place at all,” Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, head of the Air Force press, stated.

Mr Drobyshevsky added that during the time of the alleged attack all Russian planes were located on assigned airfields and no flights whatsoever took place.

In a phone interview with Russia Today, the Abkhazian President, Sergey Bagapsh, denied the possibility it could be a Russian plane.
He called the incident a “provocation” by Georgia.

“I have reason to say it was a further provocation by Georgia. There was no plane shot down. During recent exercises our military detected the object flying over Abkhazia, but there were no reports that it was shot down. It was not a Russian plane. It is out of the question. On the contrary, for the past three days we've been observing flights by Georgian reconnaissance planes over the territory of Abkhazia. And it was also seen by UN peacekeepers,” the Abkhazian President said.
The Chief-of-Staff of the Abkhazian armed forces says he personally witnessed a plane shot down in the area, but firmly believes it was not a Russian plane.

“On August 22 at 2144 air defence detected an object similar to a large plane. It was approaching the Kodori Gorge from the sea.  At 2148 the watch post registered a flash in the Moruksy passage. We believe the object lost control somewhere over the sea and approached the area out of control. At the same time on August 22, 23 and 24 over the village of Cemchiry at an altitude of 15 kilometers a scout aircraft was detected. It was constantly circling the area. I am sure the plane does not belong to Russian armed forces since I know their equipment. Neither does it belong to Abkhazian forces. I believe it belongs to those who help Georgia. On August 24, we fired warning shots at it. And I want to make an official statement that if this happens again the scout plane will be shot down,” General Anatoly Zaitsev, Abkhazian Military Chief-of-Staff, said.
The plane allegedly fell into a remote area of the Kodori Gorge, which is on the territory of Abkhazia. The republic broke away from Georgia in the 90s.

However, it is still unknown what happened in the Kodori Gorge on Wednesday, as the area is very hard to access. It is surrounded by high Caucasus mountains and covered with thick forest.

Nevertheless, a group of specialists from the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs are now trying to get to the area which may shed some light on what exactly happened on Wednesday evening in the Kodori Gorge.

The incident comes just weeks after Georgia first accused Russia of violating its airspace.

Tbilisi says that on August 6 another Russian plane crossed into Georgia and dropped a missile near the village of Tsitelubani, also near the border with Abkhazia.

That incident is still being investigated by Moscow and the international community. A team of Russian investigators did not find any evidence that would indicate that the missile was, indeed, Russian.