Georgia Claims to Have Shot Down a Russian Drone

by Jason Ditz, September 23, 2008

With tensions between the two nations still high after last month’s brief war, Georgian Interior Minister Shota Utiashvili claimed today that his nation has shot down a Russian reconnaissance drone. He said the incident occurred near the town of Gori, and speculated that the drone was “patrolling the territory where the Baku-Supsa pipeline runs.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry denied the claim, insisting it had no aircraft in the vicinity and accusing Georgia of provocation “with the aim of destabilising the situation in the region.” Georgia claims it was a “short-range drone” which had been launched from inside the buffer zone between Georgia and South Ossetia.

The Baku-Supsa pipeline is a refurbished Soviet-era pipeline which runs from the capital of Azerbaijan to the Georgian port city of Supsa. Georgia accused Russia of bombing the pipeline during the August war but British Petroleum, who operates the pipeline, denied the accusation and insisted they had closed the pipeline as a “precaution” during the brief conflict.

Russia has maintained a military presence in the buffer zone since the ceasefire agreement went into effect. Those troops, however, are scheduled to be moved back into the territory of the separatist enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by October 11, in a deal negotiated between Russia and the European Union. After that the buffer would be patrolled by EU monitors.

NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer condemned the EU-brokered agreement and said that “the option of keeping Russian forces in South Ossetia and Abkhazia is not acceptable.” Russia recognized the independence of the two regions from Georgia last month, and has since signed treaties with both promising to defend them in the event of any future Georgian attack.

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