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29 Aug, 2007 06:10

Who really fired the missile?

Russia's air force says the recent alleged missile attack on Georgia was possibly staged by a third party.It comes as Tblisi says it is ready for dialogue with Moscow “at any level”.

The missile, which Georgia claims was launched against its territory, did not come from a Russian plane, according to Russia’s Chief of Air Force Staff.

Igor Khvorov said there has been not a single violation of Georgia's air space by Russian military aircraft in recent months and called Georgia’s evidence into question.

For the past month both sides have been trading accusations.

“I think it is not only a problem for Georgia, a threat for Georgia’s security but I think it is a major risk for EU security in general,” said Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

The Russian side also has a name for it.

“This was an attention-seeking stunt poorly staged. I do not see any logic in Russia doing it, particularly at a time when Russia has won the right to stage the Olympics in Sochi and needs stability in the region,” stated Lt. General Igor Khvorov, the Chief of Air Force Staff.

Some experts believe the aim of the incident could be to accelerate the peace process in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

“Seven countries have confirmed the incontrovertible evidence of Russia’s involvement in the August 6 violation of Georgian airspace and firing a missile within it. Russia, meanwhile, has been unable to provide any evidence that might contradict the conclusions of the independent international experts,” said Irakli Chikovani, Georgian UN representative.

Russian officials have said they were refused access to a meeting with the international experts by the Georgian side.

As for the evidence they're convinced they've presented enough.

“According to the data from Russian radar, up to 90 planes flew near the Georgian border on August  6, when the incident is alleged to have happened, but  none of them violated Georgia's airspace. Georgia is maintaining that the plane that reportedly dropped the missile was making sharp zigzagging movements, but the plane's trajectory does not coincide with the trajectory of the missile that it allegedly fired. According to witnesses and objective control devices, the plane's trajectory was not north – south, but  east-north-east – a different direction from that of the missile. The Georgian side refused to show their SU-25 jet fighters, which can be easily modified to carry similar missiles,” pointed out Igor Khvorov.

I think this is not only a threat for Georgia's security, but I think this kind of incident is a major risk for European security in general. I was really wondering, together with other members of the Georgian government, how far this intrusion might go.

Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia's President

Up until 1993 two Russian military airfields were located in the territory of Georgia. They had up to a thousand missiles of this kind that remained in Georgia after the Russian troops were removed.

Russian experts say the Georgian side had destroyed two thirds of the missile by the time they arrived and it was impossible to determine its origin.

“There is not a single piece of data that is normally found after the fall of a missile. There is nothing concrete that can confirm that it belongs to a missile. The fact that struck us most was the discovery of a foreign component that cannot belong to a Russian missile. According to Russian law, we cannot use foreign products for military purposes,” pointed out Colonel Pavel Akulyonok of the Russian Air Force.

Relations between the countries have been tense after a series of events, including the deportation of Russian officers on charges of spying last year. The incident caused a full-scale diplomatic row.

Many believe the missile has sparked the flame that was dying out.

“They should not look for the enemy in the north, they should look for the provocateur elsewhere,” added Igor Khvorov.

Georgia is now seeking support from Western countries in what Russia calls a PR campaign.