Russia accuses Georgia of violating peace treaty
By Alexander Ward
Wednesday, April 23
Yesterday Russia accused Georgia of violating an Abkhazian peace treaty by operating surveillance drone flights above the breakaway region, following the downing of an unmanned Georgian aircraft over the weekend.
A Russian Foreign Ministry statement released yesterday said deploying the Georgian aircraft “constitutes unauthorized military activity,” a violation of the 1994 Moscow peace agreement which ended the Abkhazian war of secession.
In an address to the nation on April 21, President Mikheil Saakashvili said the drone was unarmed and belonged to the Georgian Interior Ministry’s police force, and had been shot down by a Russian MiG-29 that took off from a Russian military base in Abkhazia.
Russia maintains that the de facto Abkhaz authorities downed the aircraft.
“You could practically shoot [the Georgian drone] down with a catapult. The Abkhaz anti-aircraft defense could have performed the task,” Itar-Tass quoted a Russian air force spokesman as saying.
In Tbilisi yesterday, the Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement accusing Russia of violating international law by using force “against the territorial integrity of another state,” and of not keeping to OSCE commitments that required Moscow to close its military base in Abkhazia.
The statement also said that Russian actions “are clearly directed towards the annexation of a part of sovereign territory of Georgia,” and called on Moscow to reverse its move last week to bolster ties with Georgia’s separatist enclaves.
Russia should also re-enter the 1996 Commonwealth of Independent States treaty that imposed sanctions on Abkhazia—which it pulled out of in March—the Foreign Ministry statement reads.
Speaking to the breakaway region’s popular assembly the same day, de facto Abkhaz president Sergey Bagapsh said Tbilisi is thwarting the peace negotiation process.
“In periods of political tension, Georgia takes measures which deprive Abkhazia of the chance to participate in the negotiation process,” he said, “and using reconnaissance aircraft are among those measures.”
He also spoke of an “arms race” between the two sides, stating, “Given Georgian actions, Abkhazia is forced to arm itself.”
Georgia’s air force commander released video footage on April 21 which he said came from a Georgian spy drone destroyed over Abkhazia the previous day. The video, filmed from a plane flying above a coastline, shows what Georgian officials say was a Russian MiG-29 destroying the filming aircraft.
The incident marks an upsurge in tensions shortly after Moscow moved to bolster links with separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia.