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.
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A video released Monday by Georgia, purportedly a live feed from the downed plane, shows a twin-tailed fighter aircraft firing on it, reports The New York Times. The attacking aircraft closely resembles a Russian MIG-29 fighter jet, which Georgian officials say is proof of Russian involvement. No other air forces in the region that planes. Russia's Air Force said that an Abkhaz plane had shot down the drone. However, the plane on the video, which did not have visible markings, didn't appear to match that used by Abkhaz forces.Skip to next paragraph
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In a statement, the Russian government said Putin had expressed his "bewilderment" that Georgia was deploying a spy plane over Abkhazia, says the Associated Press. The Kremlin said the spy plane had violated a 1994 cease-fire between Georgia and Abkhazia and was a "destabilizing factor" that had escalated tensions there.
Last week, London's Guardian newspaper reported on Abkhazia about fears of a wider conflict provoked by Russia's embrace of the breakaway republic on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Putin has stopped short of formally recognizing Abkhazia's independence, but his order is seen as a provocative step that follows Georgia's failed attempt to join NATO. It also takes its cue from Kosovo's declaration of independence in February, which Abkhazia has cited as a precedent for its own sovereignty. Russia accuses the US of hypocrisy in recognizing Kosovo but blocking pro-Russian states like Abkhazia.
In an editorial published before the spy plane incident, The Messenger, an English-language daily in Tblisi, Georgia, said Russia had been emboldened by NATO's lack of strong support for Georgian membership. It said the international community must put pressure on Russia to stop its "annexation of Georgian territory," since Georgia is too small to act alone.
Euroasianet, a website funded by the Open Society Institute, reports from Tblisi that many officials believe Moscow is trying to thwart Georgia's bid to join NATO. Some experts argue that Russia is trying to provoke Georgia into taking "impulsive action that can torpedo Georgia's NATO prospects" and counsel caution in responding to Russian moves.