Russia-Georgia tensions escalate over breakaway republic
The reported downing of two unmanned Georgian spy drones over Abkhazia come as both sides accuse each other of preparing for war.
The reported downing of two more Georgian spy planes over the breakaway republic of Abkhazia on Sunday has escalated tensions between Georgia and neighboring Russia. Each country accuses the other of preparing for war over the tiny territory. Last week Russia sent extra peacekeepers to the border between Georgia and Abkhazia, which is seeking to emulate Kosovo by declaring full independence.Skip to next paragraph
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Georgia fought a brief war against Abkhazia in the early 1990s, and Russian officials have warned that Georgia may try to use force again to assert its claim. Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze denied this and dismissed Abkhazia's claim to have shot down two unmanned Georgian drones over the weekend. He told Reuters that Georgia was interested in economic development, not war, and in turn accused Russia of stirring tensions by supporting Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another breakaway state.
Russia's state news agency RIA Novosti reports that Abkhazia is seeking Russian security protection. In a Russian newspaper interview published Tuesday, the breakaway state's foreign minister said Russia should "bring our territory under its military control" in return for security guarantees. However, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said no such discussions were under way.
Two weeks ago, Georgia said a Russian warplane had shot down another reconnaissance aircraft over Abkhazia and showed what it said was dramatic video footage of the incident. Russia denied its involvement and said the Georgian drone was violating a prior UN cease-fire accord. The spat highlighted a foreign-policy debate in Moscow over how to tackle its pro-Western neighbors, reported The Christian Science Monitor. Russia fears the advance of NATO to its borders as a security challenge that needs a firm response. But some analysts caution that overreacting may alienate neighboring ex-Soviet states further and force them into the arms of Western powers.
Last month, Russia established legal ties with Abkhazia and has issued Russian passports to many residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, stoking Georgian claims of annexation of its territory. However, Russia has stopped short of formally recognizing the two regions' independence, a move that would badly damage ties with the West, says the Associated Press.