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Russia accuses Georgia of fabricating missile saga

Reuters | August 22, 2007
Evelyn Leopold

Russia says its investigation showed it could not have dropped a missile in Georgia and accused the former Soviet republic of deliberately inventing a "political tsunami".

Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze responded on Wednesday, saying the comments were "shameless Soviet diplomacy".

Georgia has charged that a Russian plane dropped the missile on August 6 near the town of Tsitelubani, in what it called an "act of aggression". The incident reignited feuding between Russia and its pro-Western neighbor.

Summarizing results of a Russian probe conducted on August 16-17 of the missile site, Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday accused Georgia of thwarting a proper investigation by even covering up the hole where the weapon was found.

"Georgia leveled and filled in the hole," Churkin told a news conference in New York. He said that remains of the missile included a small piece bearing markings in English.

"The use of foreign-manufactured components is banned," Churkin said, adding that Russian pilots were even forbidden to "wear Swiss-made watches."

Antadze dismissed the Russian response. "It is very well known to all that this old form of shameless Soviet diplomacy continues, despite the recent authoritative reports of commissions (of experts)," he said, before a government meeting in Tbilisi.

"These reports give us hope that this issue will be discussed in serious organizations including the UN," he said.

Experts from the United States, Sweden, Latvia and Lithuania said their investigation showed that a plane from Russia was responsible. But Churkin said this group made no effort to get in touch with Russian experts.

Experts from those countries identified the missile as the Russian-designed KH-58 and said that the Georgian air force did not have aircraft equipped with or able to launch KH-58 missiles.

Churkin said Georgia showed Russia parts of what it said was an unexploded Russian KH-58 missile. But among the fragments only three belonged to a munition of that class while others had markings that were not part of a KH-58 missile, he said.

The Russian investigators also doubted Georgia's radar data, which Churkin said failed "to identify maneuvers of unidentified aircraft in the vicinity of Tsitelubani village."

Consequently, information gathered by Russian experts "make it possible to state with full confidence that the incident of August 6 was a deliberate provocation organized and carried out by those in Georgia who are interested in aggravating the situation," Churkin said.

Russia has blocked any U.N. Security Council debate Georgia requested and the United States advocated. Churkin said that U.N. peacekeepers in the area had no independent information so there was no basis for a discussion.

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