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Russia’s armed aggression cannot be ignored

By M. Alkhazashvili
Wednesday, April 23

Russia’s aggression on Abkhazia in the last week has been political, economic and now, following the downing of an unmanned Georgian spy plane, military.

This incident is not trivial, and the provocation not inconsequent. Russia knows it would gain more than it loses by provoking armed clashes in Abkhazia.

On April 21, the Georgian air force publicized video footage of what they say could only be a Russian jet firing a missile straight into the camera of a cruising Georgian spy plane. Radar records showed the aircraft taking off from Russia’s Gudauta airbase in Abkhazia, officially closed, and flying north into Russia after the attack.

Moscow argues that Georgia is violating the 1994 Moscow ceasefire agreement by flying the drone aircraft above Abkhazia. (Tbilisi has previously denied it was using the surveillance planes, even after losing another one in March.) Whether this was a military action—this drone belonged to the police forces of the Interior Ministry—and a breach of the Moscow agreement is debatable.

But there is no question that Russia MiG-29s shooting down Georgian aircraft in Abkhazia is a brazen violation of every international norm.

Moscow offered implausible counterclaims for the incident, saying the trainer jets in the paltry Abkhaz air force took down the drone. The Russian air force even said every one of its pilots had the day off when the Georgian spy drone went down on April 20. (Any invasion of Russia, military planners take note, should be done on their Palm Sunday.)

It is an absurd cover story for an outrageous threat against Georgia, a display of brawn and a provocation in de jure Georgian skies.

The situation around the conflict zone is tense, though calmed slightly after UN observers found no evidence of alleged military buildups on either side of the administrative border with Abkhazia. But flare-ups are frequent, likely and dangerous.

President Saakashvili did the right thing in promising to meet provocations with peace proposals, and in leading an international full court press over the attack. In today’s UN Security Council session, we hope for a clear message that Russian aggression will not be willfully ignored.