|Fragment of what is believed to be a Raduga
Kh-58 anti-radar tactically guided missile.
Georgia claims a Russian attack aircraft, an SU-24 Fencer, violated Georgian airspace and dropped a Raduga Kh-58 anti-radar tactically guided missile. The rocket, which did not explode, hit an area near the villages of Shavshvebi and Tsiteliubani in the Shida Kartli region, which is near breakaway South Ossetia. The area is about 80 kilometers from the Russian border and about 65 kilometers from Tbilisi.
A spot report by the OSCE Mission in Georgia, obtained by Civil.Ge from the Georgian State Ministry for Conflict Resolution Issues, summarizes the findings of the joint monitoring team of Joint Peacekeeping Forces (JPKF) and OSCE observers on the ground. The report, one of a series of routine reports done by the joint monitoring team on the ground, is considered to be less than conclusive. It is based on information gathered at the scene of the incident, as well as from eyewitness testimonies, involving local villagers and peacekeepers from nearby observation posts.
The report says that the joint JPKF/OSCE monitoring team was shown a radar print-out by the Georgian authorities on August 7. It apparently shows that an aircraft entered Georgian airspace at 14:31 GMT (local time GMT+4) over an area close to the town of Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi) and exited Georgian airspace ten minutes later through the same route. Stepantsminda is to the north-east of Tsitelubani village, where the unexploded rocket was found.
According to the print-out, the report says, only one aircraft was involved.
After inspecting the incident site the joint monitoring team visited two nearby JPKF observation posts – one in Didi Gromi and another in Tsinagari – both manned by personnel from the North Ossetian peacekeeping battalion. The JPKF also consists of Georgian and Russian battalions.
Personnel at the Tsinagari observation post told the joint monitoring team that they had seen an aircraft flying from the north-east in a southwesterly direction at about three kilometers altitude. Before the aircraft reached the observation post, it reportedly launched a rocket. It then turned and flew back to the north east.
Peacekeepers at the Didi Gromi observation post said the same thing as their colleagues in Tsinagari, but also reported an additional rocket launch. “The only difference was that the JPKF personnel there reportedly heard and saw the launch of a rocket right above their observation post,” the report said.
Residents from the nearby South Ossetian-administered village of Kvemo-Zakhori “confirmed the rocket launch to the south of the village.”
The report does not contain further information on this mysterious “rocket launch” which seems to be separate from the one involving the rocket dropped by the aircraft. It does, however, directly echo an earlier statement by the Russian commander of the JPKF, Marat Kulakhmetov. He told RIA Novosti news agency on August 7 that the unidentified aircraft came under fire from South Ossetian militiamen. The allegation was further backed by an information leak from the Georgian investigation, claiming that the aircraft which violated Georgian airspace jettisoned, rather than fired, a missile, after it had come under fire from the South Ossetian side.
Reports suggest that the South Ossetians fired a Strela shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile. Authorities in breakaway South Ossetia, however, have strongly denied this, saying that their forces in the area are only armed with light weapons.
Speaking at a news conference on August 8, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said the report by the joint monitoring team had corroborated Tbilisi's claim of Russian involvement. It “actually confirmed the fact that the jet really came from the north,” he said.
He, however, said a comprehensive investigation into the incident was required and announced the establishment of “an international group of experts” to carry out a probe.
“We invite all our partner countries to send experts – military, aviation or experts in other fields – to this group in order to properly study all the evidence gathered by the Georgian side,” the foreign minister said. “The establishment of this group means that we are open for a dialogue with everyone who wants to find out the truth.”
The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, also said in a statement on August 8 that “a thorough investigation” should be conducted. The U.S. Department of State called on August 8 on all parties “to cooperate fully with the Georgian Government's and the OSCE's investigation.”
Russia, which said the incident was a provocation aimed at undermining Russo-Georgian relations, also stressed “the necessity of carrying out a detailed and comprehensive investigation.”
To ensure the investigation has more legitimacy and international backing, Tbilisi wants it to be under the aegis of the United Nations. In the meantime, Tbilisi is seeking to have an urgent UN Security Council session to debate the matter.
Speaking with journalists in New York, Irakli Chikovani, the deputy representative of Georgia to the UN, said the Security Council should be “resolute in condemning the attack on the territory of a sovereign country.” “We call upon the Council to conduct a high-level investigation mandated by the UN Security Council,” he said.