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Russia flexes military muscle, evoking cold war posturing

Russia and Georgia spar over a missile firing. The US responded in muted fashion after Russian bombers flew over Guam.

By / August 12, 2007

The Russia of President Vladimir Putin has taken a number of provocative military steps in recent days, creating concern about how the US and Europe should engage with a country that also has a vital role to play in Middle East peacemaking and the nuclear standoff with Iran.

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On Tuesday, Georgia said a Russian jet fired a missile at a radar installation in the country's disputed South Ossetia region, which its president alleged was part of an intimidation campaign by a Russia that, as the Soviet Union, once ruled many of its neighbors, reports Reuters.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said the missile, which did not explode, was part of a pattern of Russian aggression against its neighbors across Europe and urged European states to condemn Moscow.
"This is not Georgia's problem. This is a problem for European security and safety," Saakashvili said in English after traveling to the village where the missile landed.

Russia has responded by saying Georgia is lying about the incident, though the US is siding with Georgia, an ally that has sent troops to the war in Iraq, reports the Associated Press.

On Saturday, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov insisted Georgia had faked the incident to prevent a planned meeting of a commission of South Ossetian and Georgian authorities to discuss the decade-long standoff over the region's status.
"The authors of this theatrical presentation achieved their main goal — they ruined the meeting," he said.
Georgia's Foreign Ministry said records from radars compatible with NATO standards showed that a Russian Su-24 jet had flown into Georgia and launched a missile. Investigators identified the weapon as a Russian-made Raduga Kh-58 missile, designed to hit radars, the ministry said.
Georgia accuses Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia of backing the separatists, and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has vowed to bring the region back under central government control.

In a reflection of Russia's clout, the United Nation's Security Council has refused to meet Georgia's request for an emergency meeting on the alleged attack, saying it needs more information, Reuters reports.

In the absence of any information, the council members considered we should await the results of any inquiry, in particular the one by the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) ... before taking any decision," (Council President Pascal Gayama of Congo Republic) told reporters.
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, one of five veto-holding powers on the council, said: "This thing has to be thoroughly investigated first."
"We do not see any reason for holding such a Security Council meeting right now because there is nothing on the table. We have to have facts," said another Russian official, who asked not to be identified.

In an editorial, The Washington Post argues the Russians have a strong hand when it comes to UN actions.

The missile incident disturbingly resembles a March incident in which a missile was fired at a government building in Abkhazia, a Georgian territory that is home to pro-Russian rebels. Then, too, the evidence pointed to Russian aggression, but a United Nations report stopped short of blaming Russia – probably because the Russians had to sign off on the document.