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Big bang in Akhalgori

By Temuri Kiguradze
Tuesday, March 10
An ammunition depot exploded in the Akhalgori district of the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia on March 8. Russia reports that no one was injured during the blast.

According to information from Russian servicemen “several vehicles were burned and ammunition exploded” near the town of Akhalgori on Sunday. Russian news agency Interfax reported that several investigators were being urgently deployed at the site of the incident. Another Russian news agency, ITAR-TASS, quoted the commander of Russian forces in South Ossetia as saying that Moscow doesn’t have a “terrorism or sabotage theory so far.”

According to Georgian news agency Interpressnews the explosion occurred in a column of Russian military vehicles passing near Kancheti village and was caused by a “technical malfunction” of the vehicles. The agency reports that the blast destroyed a Russian Grad rocket launching system as well as the weapons and ammunition depot, causing the “complete destruction of the arms in the warehouse.”

The EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) confirms the explosion took place, saying it occurred at “midday” on March 8. “We understand that it is not clear at all what happened – whether it was an accident or some form of sabotage. Since the EUMM has an interest in ensuring stability and normalization in all the areas adjacent to the administrative boundary line, we would be very happy to offer our services to conduct a neutral investigation into the cause of this incident, if allowed to do so by the relevant authorities in the area,” says the statement published by the European observers.

The Foreign Ministry of Georgia has evaluated the incident as “yet another product of the chaos and irresponsibility” on the territories occupied by Russian troops. “This fact [the explosion] confirms once again the low discipline, inattentiveness and inadequate standard of military supplies in the Russian Army. Cases like this make important the complete fulfillment of the ceasefire agreement and giving permission to European observers to conduct monitoring on the other side of the administrative border, which will assist the provision of security in that region,” stated Davit Jalagania, Deputy Foreign Minister of Georgia, at a press conference in Tbilisi on March 9. He also ruled out the possibility of the explosion being the result of a terrorist act.

The explosion in Akhalgori district is not the first incident of this kind. In October 2008 at least one Russian soldier died when military cargo vehicles fell into a ravine in Abkhazia. The Georgian side declared at that time that the vehicles had exploded on a mine planted by Russian forces themselves for the “strengthening” of the administrative border.

Russian troops were deployed on the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia during the August Russian-Georgian war. After the end of military action and the signing of the EU-mediated ceasefire agreement Moscow refused to withdraw its forces, explaining this by the necessity of protecting Abkhazians and South Ossetians from “Georgian aggression.” The Kremlin subsequently stated that it would deploy about 4,000 soldiers in each of the Georgian separatist territories. This ongoing project involves building several army bases, one naval and one air base. This Russian military build up has been strongly condemned by the international community, including NATO and the UN. Georgia evaluates Russia’s actions as the occupation and annexation of its territory.