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24 Apr, 2008 20:21

UN fails to settle spy plane row

The UN Security Council has failed to reach a decision about tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi over a Georgian spy plane, shot down over Abkhazia on Sunday. Russia has repeatedly denied Georgian claims that it played a role in the incident.

Russia is insisting that the Georgian breakaway region should represent itself before the UN Security Council. Abkhazian authorities say it was their own military that destroyed the plane.

Georgia’s spy flight over Abkhazia is a breach of a UN ceasefire agreement, according to Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin.

“Sending this drone across the security zone of the conflict area was an inadmissible act. It contradicts Moscow agreements of 1994 and the Security Council resolution adopted just days ago that prohibit unannounced military activities. It was a provocative military operation which the Abkhazian side had every ground to regard as threatening,” he said.

Georgia's delegation told the Security Council that the unmanned plane was shot down by a Russian fighter jet.

Georgia’s Ambassador to the UN, Irakly Alasania, said that “by this move Russia poses an open threat to Georgian statehood and sovereignty undermines wider regional stability”.

“Taking such a decision, Russia crossed the red line and completely discredited itself as a facilitator of the conflict settlement,” he also claimed.

Following the UN session, Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, said the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the region is no longer impartial and a re-think of the structure of peacekeeping in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is needed.

“For the first time in the past few years, our friends in the UN, as well as the U.S., have questioned the role of Russia as a neutral mediator in all these processes. That pushes us to start consultations with our friends regarding a review of the format of the UN mission, to be more precise, increasing the functions of its mission in conflict zones. There's also now a question about Russian peacekeepers staying in Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” he said.

But Saakashvili’s call doesn’t seem to receive full backing from NATO. 

NATO's special representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia, Robert Simmons, said that although NATO has condemned Russia's actions, it won't directly get involved in the peacekeeping process.

“I am not sure that under current circumstances, and particularly given the Russian reaction to ties between NATO and Georgia, that a direct role in peace process and peacekeeping by NATO will be a positive step. We believe that talks are the best approach in this situation,” he said.

Abkhazia & South Ossetian dispute

Georgia also claims Russia is undermining its territorial integrity by strengthening ties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia – the two conflict zones which claimed de-facto independence in the early 1990s.

Vitaly Churkin said “it is something which is based on the need to break out of the log jam, of economic backwardness and social lack of protection for people living in those areas”.

“Many of them are Russian citizens so we have an additional responsibility for that,” he noted.

Tbilisi accuses Moscow of attempting to annex the breakaway regions. Many European and Western governments share a similar view and have called on Russia to rethink its position.

Russia maintains any steps taken with South Ossettia and Abkhazia are in line with international law and has even offered to carry out the plans with Georgia.