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Sword rattling over Khevsureti

By Gvantsa Gabekhadze
Friday, September 9
Official Tbilisi talks began on possible provocations by Russia and another violation of the fundamental principles of international law. Three Russian MI-8 military helicopters breached Georgian airspace over the Tanie Gorge near the village of Shatili on September 7, the Georgian Foreign Ministry reported.

“The helicopters intruded three km into Georgian airspace and circled around the Georgian border police checkpoint for approximately 15 minutes then left Georgian airspace.” According to the Georgians this violation represents a continuation of Russia's policy to threaten Georgia's statehood and independence. Such blatant contraventions of international law clearly aim at provoking a response from the Georgian side, and further escalate tensions. However “Under the aforesaid circumstances, the Georgian side acted responsibly and with restraint--as further deterioration of security is not in the interests of Georgia or the wider region.”

The Georgian Foreign Ministry underlined that Russia's continuous breach of its obligations under the Six-Point Ceasefire Agreement, its utter disrespect of international law, its reluctance to sign the Non-use of Force Agreement with Georgia, the masterminding of terrorist attacks from occupied territories, as well as repeated intrusions into Georgia's airspace, are all clear evidence of Russia's aggressive intentions towards Georgia. “Under these circumstances, it is obvious that new provocations can be expected from the Russians.” Georgia will appeal to the international community to assess this incident.

Part of the opposition thinks that there might be other motives for this statement. Member of the New Rights Party, Manana Nachkebia, told The Messenger , “If the information given by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is genuine, it is a serious issue and the Georgian authorities should respond to such issues with great care." However, she said that "Lately the "state possessed “ television stations are actively telling of threats from Russia. The statements from the Government might be just a PR stunt." She added that Russia is a state with open imperialistic intentions and Georgia should behave very carefully while assessing or responding to its actions.

As military analyst Irakli Aladashvili told The Messenger, “The most interesting fact for me was that according to the Ministry, the helicopter invasion of our airspace was deliberate. He mentioned that despite the fact that it occurred at night, Russian helicopters would have modern equipment and night vision. The analyst underlined that such statements have not been made by the authorities since the 2008 war despite the fact that Russians have frequently made illegal border crossings since that year. Such crossings might go unnoticed when they occur in disputed regions. This area, however, is far from the conflict territories, causing greater worry for Georgian authorities.” Aladashvili also mentioned that the Russian side would likely demand official proof of these facts, including video and photo materials. Thus it would be good if the Georgian authorities would be ready to present this evidence, “as they could confirm that the Russians had actually done this. Otherwise, the Russians will claim that the Georgian side’s accusations are groundless.” Russia has not yet responded to these statements.