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Russia threatens military action in Abkhazia

By Alexander Ward
Tuesday, April 29
Russia has threatened Georgia with military action if fighting breaks out in the separatist enclave of Abkhazia, provoking statements of concern from Tbilisi.

“Russia is doing everything to prevent a military scenario [in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone], but if it is unleashed, we will have to react, including through military means,” Valery Kenyakin, Russian special envoy for relations with CIS countries, said on April 24.

Georgian officials swiftly condemned the remarks and MP Givi Targamadze, who chairs the parliamentary committee for defense and security, said it amounted to “direct military intimidation against Georgia.”

A Georgian Foreign Ministry statement released April 26 called for international support and criticized Russia for “moving its policy into an extremely dangerous military dimension.”

It also said that Russia was waging a PR campaign to justify long-planned military aggression, and that Russia has proved to be unsuitable for a peacekeeping role in the region.

“It is absolutely clear that [the] Russian Federation [has] lost all legal, political and moral right to be a state facilitating the conflict settlement, as it has already become a party to the conflict, what makes the presence of its peacekeepers on the territory of Georgia extremely risky,” the statement reads.

Yesterday, Speaker of the Russian Federation Council Sergey Mironov reinforced Kenyakin’s remarks, telling journalists that Moscow has a duty to protect Russian citizens if their lives are in danger. The majority of people in Abkhazia are thought to have Russian citizenship.

“Russia’s statements about the possible use of force in Abkhazia and South Ossetia are based on the fact that there are many Russian citizens living there. If their lives are endangered, or if there is a threat to our citizens, then Russia has the right to use force to defend them,” Russian news agency Interfax quoted him as saying.

Tension between Russia and Georgia has been escalating since Russia moved to increase official ties with breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia earlier this month.

Last week Georgian officials claimed to have evidence that a Russian MiG-29 fighter jet shot down a Georgian unmanned surveillance drones over Abkhazia, an accusation strongly denied by Moscow.

NATO released a statement yesterday calling on Russia to reverse its recent steps on Abkhazia, and described Moscow’s threats to use military force as “unhelpful.”