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Georgian president accuses Russia of aggression

Georgia's president has accused Russia of aggression saying Tbilisi has video footage proving that Russia downed a Georgian drone.
TBILISI, April 21 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's president has accused Russia of aggression saying Tbilisi has video footage proving that Russia downed a Georgian drone.

"For the first time in the last few years, after repeated incidents of Russia violating Georgia's airspace and acts of aggression, we have video footage of a Russian attack aircraft bombing Georgian territory," Mikheil Saakashvili told Georgian TV stations.

Russia's ambassador to Georgia was summoned to the Georgian Foreign Ministry and given a protest note over the incident Sunday involving the Russian fighter allegedly shooting down the Georgian drone.

Russia's Air Force earlier Monday denied Georgia's claims that a MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter, from the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia had been involved in the incident.

Deputy Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze told a briefing Monday evening that the Georgian reconnaissance plane was "carrying out a routine flight" in the country's west, when it was shot down, adding that the incident confirmed: "Russia is a party to the conflict and not a neutral side."

"I am calling on Russia to cease its military support for separatist forces," in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Vashadze said, adding that Georgia had radar data confirming the flight by the Russian fighter.

An aide to the Russian Air Force commander, Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, said, however, that no Russian plane flew in the North Caucasus region on April 20.

Abkhazia's response

Abkhazia earlier claimed they had downed a Georgian Air Force drone Sunday at about 6 a.m. GMT, but initially Georgia's Defense Ministry denied they had carried out any military flights in the area.

The Abkhaz Defense Ministry said Monday it will continue defending its airspace. The ministry displayed fragments of the downed drone, saying it was an Israeli-made Hermes-450.

Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba said Monday Georgia's claims that Russia had downed the plane confirmed that Georgia regularly carries out reconnaissance flights over Abkhazia.

A similar incident took place March 18, when another unmanned drone was shot down over Abkhazia, although the Georgian Defense Ministry denied any involvement on that occasion.

Russia's aid to Abkhazia

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Georgian counterpart on the phone Monday that measures to aid the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are legal.

"Vladimir Putin carefully explained the essence in Russia's decisions... Putin noted that Russia's steps are absolutely legal and are exclusively aimed at the social-economic, which makes them completely different from the politicized and unlawful decisions made by a number of countries in unilaterally proclaiming Kosovo's independence," the Kremlin said.

Putin also expressed bewilderment over the Georgian reconnaissance flight over Abkhazia, which he said was out of line with Moscow's 1994 agreement for a ceasefire in the conflict zone.

Putin said, however, Russia is ready to continue working to improve bilateral relations.

Georgia has reacted furiously to Russia's announcement Wednesday that it plans to strengthen its ties with South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which borders on Russia and broke away from Georgia in conflicts following the break up of the Soviet Union.

Georgia is seeking to regain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze said Thursday that Russia's plans to give legal status to companies in the two provinces and to cooperate with their governments was "an attempt to annex two Georgian regions." He urged an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the issue.

Georgia's envoy to the United Nations, Irakly Alasaniya, said Monday Russia has crossed "the forbidden line" and discredited itself as a party mediating the conflict between Georgia and its breakaway regions when making the decision to aid the unrecognized republics.

Ex-Soviet breakaway regions have stepped up their drive for independence since Kosovo's declaration of independence on February 17. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, along with Moldova's Transdnestr, have since asked Russia's parliament, the United Nations and other organizations to recognize their independence.

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