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Russia criticizes US envoy to South Caucasus

By Christina Tashkevich
Thursday, May 15
Moscow criticized a US diplomat for reportedly saying that Russian military forces in a Georgian breakaway region are excessive for peacekeeping activities.

Returning from a visit to Abkhazia on May 12, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza said it was “unclear why such powerful military force is concentrated in Abkhazia,” according to Russian news agency Interfax.

The US Embassy did not respond to requests for clarification of Bryza’s remarks, but there have been no US statements denying the media reports.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the US diplomat’s comments were “not entirely correct.”

“Not the first time Mr. Bryza demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the true situation in the conflict region, and as a result his comments, to put it mildly, have little to do with reality,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman also criticized Bryza for omitting to mention what Russia claims is a Georgian military build-up on its side of the security zone, as well as the deployment of unmanned Georgian surveillance aircraft over Abkhazia.

Bryza’s statements, he said, were part of Washington’s “campaign to protect from criticism countries which they are strenuously pulling into NATO.”

Tbilisi responded the following day, saying the Russian statement shows Moscow is a party to the conflict.

A Georgian Foreign Ministry statement criticized Russia’s use of terms such as “Abkhazian borders” despite Moscow’s nominal commitment to Georgia’s territorial integrity.

“It seems that the Russian Federation’s position on Georgia’s territorial integrity faces a serious test,” the statement read.

It also denied that the US is “strenuously pulling” Georgia into NATO, pointing to a January referendum that indicates 77 percent of voters back the NATO bid.

Moscow outraged Tbilisi last month when it first moved to increase ties with separatist authorities in Georgia’s breakaway regions, then bolstered its peacekeeping contingent in Abkhazia.

Tbilisi has also accused the Russian air force of shooting down one of its unmanned surveillance drones.