Russia 'downs Georgian drone'

Georgian president calls the Kremlin to protest against "aggressive attacks".

    Georgian military officials said that footage from the drone showed a Russian MiG-29 [File: GALLO/GETTY]

    Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia's president, said that he had telephoned Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, to protest against "these aggressive attacks on Georgia".

    "Today I spoke to the Russian Federation's President Vladimir Putin. This was an uneasy talk," Saakashvili said in a televised address.

    'Destabilising factor'

    The Kremlin said that Putin had warned the Georgian leader that flights by unmanned reconnaissance aircraft in the region risked increasing tensions.

    In Video

    Watch the footage that Georgia says is a Russian attack on a spy drone

    "Vladimir Putin expressed his bewilderment by the very fact of Georgia making flights with military purposes over the conflict zone and stressed ... this is a destabilising factor escalating tension," it said in a statement.

    Colonel David Nairashvili, Georgia's air force commander, told The Associated Press that distinctive twin-tail markings of the fighter jet show in the footage indicate that it was a MiG-29.

    "It's a Russian aircraft. Georgia does not possess it, nor do Abkhaz separatists," he said. "It's absolutely illegal for a Russian MiG-29 to be there."

    He said that radar had shown the aircraft took off from the Abkhazian town of Gudauta, the former site of a Russian military base.

    'Note of protest'

    The Georgian foreign ministry said in a statement: "The government of Georgia strongly condemns the unprovoked act of aggression that took place on April 20, 2008, in Georgia."

    It said that Russia's ambassador had been summoned to the ministry to receive a "note of protest" over the incident. 

    "Vladimir Putin expressed his bewilderment by the very fact of Georgia making flights with military purposes over the conflict zone"

    Kremlin statement

    Abkhazia's separatist administration said on Sunday that its own forces had shot down the drone because it was violating Abkhaz air space and breaching ceasefire agreements.

    Georgia's foreign ministry said the presence of a Russian fighter jet at Gudauta was a violation of the 1999 Istanbul commitments, under which Moscow agreed to withdraw its military from the base.

    Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull in Moscow said that it was not the first time that Georgia had made such accusations against Russia.

    "The Russians patrol that portion of their southern border pretty heavily by air, they are frequently accused of crossing over into Georgian air space and even at one point last summer accused of dropping a missile onto Georgian territory," he said.

    Relations between Moscow and the former Soviet state have been tense for some time due to Tbilisi's anger over what it sees as Russian support for Abkhazia's independence and Russia's objections to Georgia's plans to join the Nato military alliance. 

    'Annexation' allegations

    Last week Georgia accused Moscow of the de facto annexation of Abkhazia, and a second breakaway region of South Ossetia, after Vladimir Putin, Russia's president, ordered his government to establish closer ties with the provinces.

    The controversy came as Russia restored postal links with Georgia, ending an embargo imposed in 2006 when Georgia arrested four Russian military officers on spying charges.

    Russia's foreign ministry said on Friday that Putin had ordered "practical steps to normalise relations with Georgia".

    Tbilisi dismissed the move, saying it was an attempt by Moscow to distract international attention from Russia's support for the breakaway regions.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    How different voting systems work around the world

    How different voting systems work around the world

    Nearly two billion voters in 52 countries around the world will head to the polls this year to elect their leaders.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    How the art world's hunger for ancient artefacts is destroying a centuries-old culture. A journey across the Himalayas.