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26 May, 2008 16:21

UN: Russia shot down Georgian spy plane

UN observers have concluded that a Russian fighter-jet shot down a Georgian spy drone over the breakaway republic of Abkhazia in April. Russia’s Defence Ministry denies the allegations.

The UN commission investigating the incident believes the video from the drone shows a Russian MiG or Sukhoi jet firing at the unmanned aircraft. Radar data showed the interceptor returning to Russian air space.

Speaking at a news conference following the Independence Day parade in Tbilisi, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said:

“For the first time, Georgia has received confirmation from the UN that Russia has indeed committed an act of aggression against Georgia. This requires strong action on behalf of the international community. And this reaction must be timely.”

Georgia's Defence Ministry released video of what it claimed was the shooting down of its drone by a Russian MIG-29.

However, the Abkhazian Government claims it was responsible for the incident and the UN report is biased.

“We didn’t take part in this investigation. We refused to take part in this investigation from the very start because we believe it’s biased,” Abkhazian President Sergey Bagapsh stated.

Merab Kishmaria, the Abkhazian Defence Minister said, “Once again I would like to repeat that I myself ordered the Abkhazian air force to shoot down the spy drone”.

“Among my subordinates there are – Abkhaz, Armenian, Russian nationals and even local Georgians – that makes no difference. Which means the UN can easily jump to any conclusions,” he said.   

Moscow has strongly denied the allegations and questioned the authenticity of the video, which it claims was edited. It says the plane was not Russian, and that the landscape in the background didn't look like Abkhazia.

“There can be no talk of border violations and especially of downing an unmanned spacecraft. On April 20 there were no flights of the Russian air force over the border with Georgia,” said Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, head of Russian Defence Ministry press service.

According to Pyotr Dyenekin, former Commander-in-chief in Russian air force, every flight of fighters is controlled by ground radar.

“If somebody really shot down the drone, then I congratulate the pilot because shooting down such an object requires great skill. It's impossible it was done by a Russian plane,” he said.

Since a ceasefire agreement between Georgia and Abkhazia prohibits sending any kind of drones over the conflict zone, Russian lawmakers are questioning why an unmanned plane was flying in the conflict area.

“If there is no agreement allowing drones in the region the second question is who downed it. The point is that it shouldn’t have been flying there. It’s evident it was on a reconnaissance mission. The fact is: it was downed within the framework of the law,” Konstantin Zatulin, Deputy Chairman of the CIS Committee in the Russian State Duma said.