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Terrorism & Security

Georgia says Russia downed spy plane

The incident contributes to ongoing regional tensions between Russia and former Soviet territories that favor Western ties and NATO membership.

By / April 22, 2008

Diplomatic tensions have flared in the Caucases over the fate of a Georgian spy plane allegedly shot down Sunday as it flew over a breakaway pro-Russian region. Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who has cultivated military ties with the US and sought to join NATO, accuses Russia of shooting down the unmanned drone. The United Nations Security Council is due to discuss the incident on Wednesday.

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The incident has drawn attention to friction between Russia and former Soviet territories that favor closer Western engagement, including NATO membership. It also underscores lingering tensions over unrecognized breakaway states in the region following Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, which Russia strongly opposed.

Earlier this month, a NATO summit in Romania rejected a US proposal to fast-track Ukrainian and Georgian membership, but agreed to review their applications at a future meeting. The Christian Science Monitor reported that some Eastern European countries at the summit were critical of NATO's "appeasement" of a belligerent Russia, which is carving out its spheres of influence against NATO encroachment.

Bloomberg reports that the downed spy plane was flying over Abkhazia, a state seeking independence that fought a civil war against Georgia in the 1990s and maintains close ties with Moscow. Mr. Saakashvili said Monday he had telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him to end attacks on Georgian territory and to stop his backing for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway state.

Russia has denied that it shot down the spy plane. Last week, Mr. Putin ordered his government to protect the "rights, freedoms, and lawful interests" of Russians living in the two disputed territories. Georgia views this as a step toward annexation, and some Western governments have criticized the move. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday she had called her Russian counterpart to express concern over tensions with Georgia and said the US was "absolutely committed" to Georgia's territorial integrity, Xinhua reported.


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