U.N. takes up Russia-Georgia crisis over downed drone
The Security Council meets today to discuss Tbilisi's allegation that Russia shot down its spy aircraft. Moscow says the drone's flight over the breakaway region of Abkhazia violates a cease-fire.
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Moscow has accused the post-Soviet state of violating United Nations cease-fire agreements by flying the unmanned aircraft over the pro-Moscow separatist region of Abkhazia. Georgia, for its part, claims hard proof of Moscow's meddling, releasing a video it says was taken by its drone that shows images of what looks like a MiG-29 – flown only by the Russian Air Force in that region – shooting a missile that rapidly approaches the camera. The clip ends abruptly in static.
"After repeated incidents of Russia violating Georgia's airspace and unprovoked acts of aggression, this time we have video footage of a Russian aircraft attacking Georgian territory," Georgian President Mikhael Saakashvili told journalists Monday night.
The UN Security Council is set to discuss the issue in a closed-door session Wednesday, but any long-term settlement of the complicated background dispute may have to await the outcome of a foreign-policy debate currently raging in Moscow over how to deal with Western-leaning neighbors like Georgia and Ukraine, who seem more determined than ever to join the Western military alliance, NATO.
Earlier this month Russia scored a minor victory when NATO leaders postponed the two countries' applications to enter the military alliance's membership program, but there was little celebration in Moscow. Russia, which sees the advance of NATO to its borders as a strategic nightmare, is scrambling for policy prescriptions aimed at preventing it.
"Some people are saying we've been too flexible and given up too much, and the result is that Georgia and Ukraine are becoming more anti-Russian than ever. These people say we need to take a tough approach," says Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice rector of the Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, which trains Russian diplomats. "A different argument says that if we want these countries to be our friends, we should respect their sovereignty and foreign-policy choices.... [Then,] even if they do join NATO, if our relations with them are warm and friendly, it won't matter so much."
Both approaches are on display in Moscow's treatment of Georgia, a country of 5 million on Russia's southern flank. Last week the Kremlin moved to upgrade its relations with two Georgian separatist regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which have been de facto Russian protectorates since they broke away in the early '90s.
Experts say the measures, which would improve trade and official contacts but fall short of diplomatic recognition, are part of Moscow's response to Western recognition of Kosovo's independence two months ago.
"After Kosovo, the Russian position appears to be that the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is inevitable, even if it's not imminent," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a Moscow-based foreign policy journal.
But Georgia was furious. "[Moscow] is virtually saying that it does not recognize the jurisdiction of Georgia regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia," Mr. Saakashvili thundered last week. "This is an unprecedented breach of the norms of international law and conduct."