Just two weeks after NATO announced its intention to one day extend membership to Georgia, tensions between Russia and the former Soviet republic have escalated. On April 21, the Georgian Ministry of Defense released a video purportedly shot by an unmanned Georgian aircraft on a reconnaissance flight over the breakaway region of Abkhazia. The film shows a fighter jet approaching the drone and firing a missile; seconds later, the screen goes black.
Georgia laid blame for the incident at Russia’s door. Air force commander Col. David Nairashvili told Reuters that the jet fighter had the distinct markings of a MiG-29, a Russian aircraft that he claims is possessed by neither Georgia nor the Abkhazian separatists. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili appeared on television condemning the act. “This action is a severe violation of the UN Charter,” Saakashvili said. “This is a bombing of the territory of a sovereign state by another state without being provoked, without any legal basis.”
The Kremlin, however, has denied any involvement in the incident, blaming the Abkhazian rebels—and accusing Georgia of having violated ceasefire and UN Security Council resolutions regarding the breakaway territory by having their drone over the conflict zone in the first place.
The relationship between Tblisi and Moscow has been frosty since the breakup of the Soviet Union, but worsened following the 2004 election of the Western-leaning Saakashvili. Leaders in Abkhazia and fellow separatist region South Ossetia have found support from Russia, and while neither is officially recognized by any other country, Moscow last week announced plans to establish closer ties with businesses and “legal entities” within the two regions.
Georgian leaders suspect that their former masters in Russia have eyes to annex the troubled zones—and eventually, Georgia itself. This latest flare-up between the two states, meanwhile, has elicited concern from NATO, the U.S. State Department, and the UN Security Council. M
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