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Saakashvili Calls for Unity, amid Air Attack

Georga says Raduga Kh-58 anti-radar tactical
guided missile was used in the attack.
Interior Ministry photo
Maintaining unity and remaining cool and calm will be Georgia’s only response to air assaults on its sovereign territory, President Saakashvili said on August 7.

He was speaking in the Shida Kartli region near the breakaway South Ossetia, which was hit by an air-to-surface missile on August 6. The rocket did not explode and caused no casualties.

Saakashvili arrived at the scene near the villages of Shavshvebi and Tsitelubani accompanied by foreign diplomats accredited in Georgia.

“We are expecting a strong international reaction,” he told diplomats. “Because this is not only an issue of concern to Georgia. This is a wider issue and poses a major risk to European security.”

Although Saakashvili did not make any direct accusations against Russia, he said that the incident was part of recent developments in the region and linked it with the March 11 attack on upper Kodori Gorge and the cyber attacks on Estonia. Tallinn accused Moscow in May of carrying out a three-week long massive cyber attack that disabled the websites of ministries, political parties, banks, companies and media outlets.

Saakashvili also told the foreign diplomats that Tbilisi wanted “independent verification”  and an investigation of the incident.

Prior to departing for the scene of the attack, the diplomatic corps was briefed on the incident by the deputy foreign minister, Nikoloz Vashakidze. At the meeting the Georgian side handed over to the foreign diplomats evidence, including air traffic records, which Tbilisi thinks is confirmation of Russian aircraft involvements in the attack.

Before addressing the foreign diplomats at the scene, President Saakashvili was briefed by a Georgian airforce colonel, who told him that a Russian attack aircraft, an SU-24 Fencer, had been involved.

Earlier on August 7, the Georgian Interior Ministry said that two SU-24s had violated Georgian airspace. However, later, officials said that only one aircraft had been involved in the attack. The airforce colonel told the president that a rocket fired by the aircraft had been mistaken for a second plane by the radar.

A Georgian airforce colonel briefs President
Saakashvili about the attack details. MoD Photo
He also said that air traffic records provided by at least two radars had confirmed that it was indeed an SU-24, which had taken off from an air base near the town of Mozdok in Russia’s North Ossetian Republic.

“Past experience confirms this,” he said. “This type of Russian aircraft often violates our airspace.” He added that the warplane’s speed was at least 800 kilometers per hour.

During the visit to the scene, the president summoned several local residents who witnessed the attack and asked them several questions about what they had seen. A woman told him that she had seen only one aircraft. A man said that he had heard the sound of shooting as well during the incident.

“We are so lucky that the rocket did not explode,” Saakashvili said. “Experts told me that this rocket is capable of destroying everything in a radius of 300 meters.”

He said those behind the attack wanted to derail Georgia from its path to development.

“They think that attacks of this kind will trigger fear and panic in Georgia which in turn can trigger a change in our political course. But our response will be further development, maintaining our unity and keeping calm,” Saakashvili said.

Russia’s Response

Georgian experts examine the incident site
on August 7. MoD photo.
Russian officials have strongly denied Moscow’s involvement in the attack and suggested that Tbilisi itself could have staged a provocation.

The Russian ambassador in Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, was summoned by the Georgian Foreign Ministry early on August 7.

“I do not know what has happened. Ask those who have organized it,” he told journalists after the meeting in the Georgian Foreign Ministry.

“By the way, SU type aircraft are available to the Georgian airforce,” he added.

Echoing remarks by Ambassador Kovalenko, the chief Russian negotiator on South Ossetia, Yuri Popov, who is currently in Georgia, said on August 7 that the aircraft was an SU-25 and not an SU-24 as reported by the Georgian side. SU-25s are used by the Georgian airforce.

The Russian Ministry of Defense has also strongly denied that its air force had been involved. “Russian jets have not conducted any flights in the named area; hence Russian jets have not violated Georgia’s airspace,” Col. Alexander Drobishevsky, an aide to the commander of the Russian airforce, told RIA Novosti news agency on August 7.

Meanwhile, the South Ossetian secessionist leader, Eduard Kokoity, said a Georgian aircraft had dropped two bombs in the conflict zone on August 6 in order to incriminate Russia. 

Kokoity said one bomb landed in a forested area in South Ossetia and another in Georgian-controlled territory.

Marat Kulakhmetov, the commander of the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in South Ossetia, said an aircraft had fired a rocket only after it had come under fire from the South Ossetian militias. He also said the aircraft had come from Georgian territory and had returned using the same route.

“The aircraft came into the conflict zone from the east. Then it turned in a southwest direction. Over the village of Gromi it came under fire from the South Ossetian side. It seems this scared the pilot and caused him to fire a rocket and then he turned to the north east. According to local residents, the plane then flew to the east from where it came,” Kulakhmetov told RIA Novsoti news agency.
On March 11, 2007, the Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge in breakaway Abkhazia came under fire. Georgia claimed Russian army helicopters were involved. Moscow has denied any involvement.

A report by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), issued on July 12, only suggested, but did not explicitly claim, that Russian army helicopters could have been involved in the attack.

Tbilisi said the investigation of the March 11 attack was inconclusive because of the Russian side’s non-cooperative stance and demanded that the international probe be re-opened.


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