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Shots fired near Presidential convoy

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, November 25
Shooting was heard near the cortege of the Georgian and Polish Presidents as it passed by the administrative border with breakaway South Ossetia on the evening of November 23. Georgian senior officials, supported by the local media, described the shooting as an “attack on the Presidents” and accused Russian troops of conducting a provocation.

The convoy of cars bearing Mikheil Saakashvili and Lech Kaczynski and their various security personnel drove past the Russian checkpoint at the Akhalgori district in South Ossetia, but remained on the Georgian side on the administrative border. It was in Akhalgori district because the Presidents had made the decision to visit refugee camps located nearby. Georgian TV stations broadcast footage shot by a cameraman who was in the car when the shooting started, in which shots could be clearly heard, but the video left unclear who was shooting and in which direction. Speaking at a news conference in Tbilisi soon after the incident, Kaczynski said that he was not aware whether the shots had been “fired into the air, or where.”

The Polish President stated that “Some may now say that this was staged by the Georgians, but it would be very unreasonable to say that, such an approach would be very unreasonable. I appeal from here to my friends in the European Union, and also to my friends in the United States, asking them to draw proper conclusions from this incident before it is too late,” Kaczynski said. He then added that Russia was not fulfilling the ceasefire obligations it undertook after the August war, a statement supported by President Saakashvili, who announced that the shootings are “a clear reminder” of the fact that Russia still occupies Georgian territories.

“Fire was opened in the direction of the Presidents,” Davit Bakradze, the Parliamentary Speaker, told Georgian journalists. “This attack should be a warning sign for those states, which still have some illusions about Russia’s regime.” Russian officials however have already made a statement refuting any kind of connection with the incident. “Russian soldiers at the military base in South Ossetia and those who serve at the block posts in this Republic have not opened any fire,” said the official spokesperson for Russia’s Defence Ministry, as quoted by Russian news agency Interfax, who added that “all statements on this topic are no more than provocations.” This statement was soon followed by one from the Russian Foreign Ministry, saying “This is a real provocation. This is not the first time such things have happened: they stage everything themselves and then accuse the Russian or Ossetian sides,” stated Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on November 24. “Moscow thinks it is a provocation when the President of Georgia invites to Tbilisi the President of another country and then takes him to another state,” Lavrov added.

South Ossetian separatists also deny shooting at the Presidents, however they confirm that the convoy passed near Akhalgori district and claim that it tried to cross the administrative border. “Today [November 23] at 17.00 a cortege of 30 cars approached the block post in the Leningori [Ossetian name for Akhalgori] district of South Ossetia. The cortege stopped at the border, and people in the leading car said that the President of Georgia and the Polish Ambassador were in the convoy and requested to be allowed to enter Leningori district. They were refused,” says the head of the separatist South Ossetian KGB Boris Attoev, talking to Russian journalists. He also said that the cortege made “another attempt” to cross the administrative border but was again not allowed to. He denied the information about the shooting.