Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Another act of war
Count me among those unsurprised this morning when Georgia reported that a pair of Russian SU-24 fighter jets had entered Georgian airspace and fired a surface-to-air missile that landed near the town of Tsitelubani, outside Tbilisi. Thankfully it didn't explode - that's a picture of the crumpled dud at left.
This is at least the fourth time in six years that Russia's air force has attacked Georgian territory. Five years ago (while I was in Georgia on a reporting trip) the cause was ostensibly to root out Chechen fighters holed up in the Pankisi Gorge. These days, (there was another attack, confirmed by the United Nations, back in March) the attacks seem linked to Russia's dissatisfaction with the American-supported President Mikhail Saakashvili and a broader problem the Kremlin has accepting the influence Washington now wields over the tiny ex-Soviet republic.
In particular, Saakashvili has made no secret of his intention to bring the Russian-backed separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under Tbilisi's control. The March attack by Russian helicopters occurred in the Kodori Gorge, a part of Abkhazia still under Tbilisi's. Yesterday's attack happened near the informal border with South Ossetia. These attacks are very clear, if very clumsy, warning signals about the position Russia will take if Saakashvili pushes too hard.
The Russian military, for the record, has denied the attack and said no Russian planes were anywhere near Tsitelubani. The South Ossetian separatist leader, meanwhile, has suggested that Georgia fired the missile at its own territory as part of a plan to discredit Russia. Given the history, I'll wait for the next UN report before I put much credibility in such the Russian air force's version of events.
In the meantime, I'm beginning to sympathize more and more with something I previously didn't agree with - Saakashvili's quest to bring Russia into NATO.