On 20th April, 2008, Georgian unmanned reconnaissance aircraft was shot down over the village of Gagida in Abkhazia. The separatist Abkhaz air force claimed responsibility for shooting it down. The representative of de facto Abkhaz President in the Gali region Ruslan Kishmaria informed about the incident adding that it was Georgia’s second reconnaissance aircraft which was shot down during last weeks (1). In an interview for Reuters, however, the Commander of Georgian Air Force David Nairashvili described by means of a video recording how Russian MiG-29 shot down Georgian unmanned aircraft drone (2). One day after the incident, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation (RF) to Georgia Viacheslav Kovalenko was summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia and handed over a protest note (3). On 4th May, 2008, Abkhazia announced the shooting down of other two Georgian umanned planes (4).
Predominantly three geopolitical processes affect the current development of the situation in breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia:
1) The coming together of Georgia and NATO in the period after the so-called Rose Revolution in 2003, which has been going through a period of great expectations in connection with Georgian integration into North-Atlantic structures nowadays;
2) Growing distance between the geopolitical positions of the US and the RF in the aftermath of diverse factors; one of them is the planned extension of US anti-missile shield to the regions of Central and Eastern Europe;
3) Global disregard for the principle of territorial integrity of states caused by the recognition of the unilaterally declared independence of the Serbian province of Kosovo by some countries of the international community.
At the beginning of March 2008, the RF lifted business and economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia in 1996 in response to the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence (5). In the second half of March 2008, the Russian State Duma adopted unanimously a resolution suggesting to the President and the Government to weigh up the advantages of the recognition of the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (6). In the middle of April 2008, President Putin issued a series of provisions charging the Government with the development of measure mechanisms leading to the establishment of a universal protection of rights, freedoms and legitimate interests of Russian citizens living in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (7). The Government along with Russian regions was obliged to cooperate with the representatives of factual power in breakaway republics in the realisation of measures aimed at the development of business, social and research area as well as the field of information, culture and education (8).
The reactions on drone shooting down
According to RIA Novosti, at Georgia’s request a telephone conversation between Mikhail Saakashvili and Vladimir Putin was held a day after the incident. Russian President assessed negatively the fact that Georgia undertook military flights over a conflict zone. He emphasised that it was in conflict with the spirit and intent of the Moscow Agreement on ceasefire and the dissolution of forces dated 14th March, 1994 (the Agreement) (9). Saakashvili responded saying that Georgia had a video recording of the drone shooting down by Russian MiG-29 at its disposal (10). At Georgia’s request the UN Security Council met in session to discuss the question of the drone shooting down (11), however, the negotiations proved unavailing (12). Further Georgian steps went towards the ground of the OSCE.
In the end of April, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affair labelled the video recording a counterfeit (13). The Russian Permanent Representative to the OSCE Deputy Vladimir Voronkov dubbed the version according to which the unmanned aircraft was shot down by a Russian MiG a fiction. He added that the flight of Georgian drone was a breach of the Agreement and several UN Security Council resolutions. He also referred to the unsuitability of dragging this issue into the scope of the OSCE Permanent Council in view of the fact that the settlement of Georgian-Abkhaz conflict came under the UN (14).
Russia appropriated Abkhaz version according to which the drone intruded into Abkhaz airspace without a permission. Subsequently, Abkhaz air defence eliminated it (15). On the contrary, according to the statement of the Georgian Embassy to Slovakia for Despite Borders, Russian MiG-29 took off from the Gudauta air base in Abkhazia, shot down the Georgian unmanned aircraft and abandoned Abkhaz airspace in the direction of the RF in spite of the fact that at the OSCE Summit in Istanbul in 1999 Russia committed itself to abandon the base and to use it exclusively as a rehabilitation centre for peace troops members. However, Georgia has been claiming for a longer time that Russia uses the base for the military support of Abkhaz separatism.
As early as 18th March, 2008, Abkhazia released information on shooting down Georgian unmanned aircraft of Israeli production by means of air defence. Nonetheless, a representative of Georgian Defence Ministry denied subsequently the veracity of this affirmation and called it an intentional disinformation (16). At the end of March 2008, Abkhaz and Russian media informed again that Abkhaz soldiers detected Georgian unmanned aircraft during a military exercise(17). Following the incident on 20th April, the Russian Defence Ministry accused Georgia of provocations aimed against Russian peacemakers and pledged a hard and adequate response to any Georgian attempts to use power against peacemaking forces and Russian citizens in the unrecognised republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (18). At a RIA Novosti press conference, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry Plenipotentiary Valeriy Kenyaykin said that the RF would stand by its citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a difficult situation and would defend their interests using all possible means.
In response to the statements of Russian representatives Georgia maintained through the Defence Minister Deputy Batu Kutelia that any aggressive Russian action against Georgia wouldn’t remain without a contraction. According to Kutelia Georgia would act in collaboration with its partners and allies adequately and in accordance with concrete situation (19). The Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Jakobashvili declared that his state had not only the right but also the obligation to defend its citizens in its own territory. The questions of state defence doesn’t come under Jakobashvili’s authority, however, his appearances are marked by militant rhetoric reminding of the appearances of the former Defence Minister, who has been evading prosecution staying in France at present (20). Jakobashvili’s statement that in December 2008 “everything will be solved” (21) is unclear in meaning: Valeriy Kenjakin compared this statement’s diction to the words of the former Georgian Defence Minister Irakli Okruashvili concerning the celebration of the New Year 2007 in Tskhinvali. The trustworthiness of the drone shooting down video recording reduces the contestability of the evidences of Russian aggression as regards the remains of a missile found in the village of Tsitelubani. Russia uses this adequately in the case of the shooting down of Georgian unmanned aircrafts too (22). The oncoming election is of key importance for Georgia. With regard to this, the president’s party will be rather weakened in the aftermath of crisis events of the end of 2007. Therefore Saakashvili’s administration has to undertake steps leading to the increase of the support of the population and the international community.
In a joint statement the Presidents of Ukraine and Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili and Viktor Youshchenko voiced concern over the undermining of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia from the side of the RF. They argued using the fact that in UN Security Council Resolution 1808 dated 15th April, 2008, as well as in other Security Council resolutions there’s an appeal to UN member states to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Georgia in terms of its internationally recognised borders (23). On 28th April, 2008, NATO leaders held a negotiation with the President’s special envoy David Bakradze (24). According to the statement of NATO leaders after the end of negotiations the alliance expresses a strong support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia as well as the opinion that the RF should cease current attitude leading to the undermining of Georgian sovereignty (25). NATO reaction, however, was accompanied also by a translation scandal caused by a “terrible distortion” of NATO spokesperson James Apparthunai’s statement by Georgian television which pertained to the appropriateness of the presence of Russian peacemakers in the conflict zone (26).
On the contrary, Russian interpretation is based on the fact that the flight of an unmanned aircraft, which is applicable also as for the correction of artillery fire, represents a breach of the Agreement and Security Council resolutions. According to Russian Defence Ministry the Agreement rules out the presence of any armed forces in the security zone and the UN Security Council Resolution 1808 dated 15th April, 2008, obliges all sides to prevent any illegal armed activity (27). According to the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry the insertion of the given formulation into the Security Council resolution was interpreted as a forthcoming step towards the RF, which voiced concern as for the increasing frequency of the flights of Georgian fighter jets and unmanned planes over Abkhaz territory (28).
In the first article of the Agreement the parties commit themselves to refrain from any military activities aimed against the other party. In accordance with the fourth article a withdrawal of Georgian military troops from Abkhaz territory will take place (29). Georgia argues that the flights of unmanned aircrafts aren’t mentioned directly in the Agreement. So they aren’t in the property of the Interior Ministry. Georgian argumentation is based on the affirmation that unmanned aircrafts of this type don’t pose a threat to civil population. The conduction of flights of light unmanned planes over the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia was confessed and also its continuation was announced by President Mikhail Saakashvili at the group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General on Georgia negotiation (30). From the point of view of Russian, however, the Agreement excludes any kind of activity in the conflict zone for military purposes.
The extension of Russian contingent in Abkhazia
At the close of April 2008, an additional contingent of CIS Collective Peacemaking Forces in the Georgian-Ossetian Conflict was deployed to the conflict zone. According to the Abkhaz Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Shamba the number of Russian peacemakers reached the upper limit determined by the Agreement. Shamba explained the increase of the number of peacemakers up to 3,000 by the presence of Georgian army in the security zone created by the Agreement as well as the unwillingness of Georgia to withdraw its troops from the Kodor gorge and to conclude a non-aggression agreement with Abkhazia. From the viewpoint of Abkhaz separatism, the adoption of such an agreement is attractive especially due to the equalisation of the position of these two entities, which is granted by Georgian and Abkhazian representatives’ signatures. According to Shamba’s statement peacemaking forces are ready to undertake steps leading to the separation of enemy parties in the case of the threat of conflict restoration (31).
A day before the increase of the number of peacemakers, Russian Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defence provided the media with a press statement in which they announced the extension of peacemaking forces contingent in Abkhazia. Georgia responded claiming that the increase of the number of Russian soldiers on the pretext of extending the peacemaking contingent was in conflict with the decisions adopted on the ground of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) as well as with universally accepted norms and principles of international right. The status and activity of peacemaking forces is regulated by the Decision of the CIS Heads of State dated 22nd August, 1994 (the Decision). The first article of the Decision specifies that the schedule of the deployment of peacemaking forces is adopted in accordance with the Agreement. According to the statement of the Georgian Foreign Affairs Ministry the Agreement is based on commitments emerging from universally accepted principles of international right and considers the established peace mission practice, according to which peace operations are carried out exclusively with the consent of the country involved. The Decision and the Agreement determine the peacemakers’ mandate as well as the geographical region of their deployment. The provision contained in the Article 2 Letter f) of the Agreement and in the CIS Peacemaking Forces Protocol defines the sphere of their activity. According to the Georgian Foreign Affairs Ministry the increase of the number of peacemakers along with any kind of activities beyond the framework of the territory earmarked in these documents has to be preceded by Georgia’s consent. In a contrary case Georgia will consider Russian steps the violation of territorial integrity and sovereignty of state as well as the intervention into its internal affairs (32).
NATO identified with Georgian argumentation and raised an objection against Russian intentions to extend its contingent in Abkhazia. According to NATO spokesperson James Apparthurai Russian steps and its rhetoric linked with the threat of using power undermine Georgian territorial integrity. NATO spokesperson James Apparthurai interpreted NATO’s stance which considers the stepping up of Russian military presence in Georgia a breach of the Agreement (33).
Georgia accuses the RF of shooting down the drone and illegal increase of the number of Russian soldiers in the conflict zone. Russia argues that the drone flight over security zone is in conflict with international agreements and denies statements concerning the military presence exceeding the Agreement’s framework. Through the statement of Valeriy Kenyaykin, Russia accuses Georgia of concentrating troops on the border with Abkhazia and importing military technology from Turkey and other states (34). On 25th April, 2008, Georgian television Rustavi-2 brought the information on the deployment of Abkhaz troops in the Gali region. The Abkhaz Defence Ministry denied this subsequently (35). However, the affirmation was taken over by the South Osstian agency OSinform. The next day it brought the news that Abkhazian army was gathering in the Gali region and that in the case of conflict restoration, also South Ossetian army was ready to support Abkhaz forces on the grounds of an agreement between Abkhaz President Sergey Bagapsh and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoyty on mutual military aid (36).
On the background of the coming together of Georgia and NATO, the growing distance between the positions of the RF and NATO and the increasing disregard for the principle of the territorial integrity of states, the parties involved in the process of Georgian-Abkhaz conflict settlement exert activities leading to the disruption of stability in the region of South Caucasus. The parties accuse each other of preparing a military attack (37). At the same time, the risk of an armed conflict restoration has been growing rapidly.
(5) Косово аукнулось на Кавказе. Россия отменила введенные в 1996 году санкции в отношении Абхазии. 6.3.2008. URL:
(6) Дума предложила президенту признать Абхазию и Южную Осетию. 21.3.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/politics/20080321/101944742.html
(7) Последнее признание президента Путина. 17.4.2008. URL: http://www.ng.ru/cis/2008-04-17/1_putin.html
(8) Абхазия и Южная Осетия станут России еще ближе. 16.4.2008. URL:http://www.rian.ru/politics/20080416/105229580.html
(9) Состоялся телефонный разговор Владимира Путина с Президентом Грузии Михаилом Саакашвили. 21.4.2008. URL: http://www.kremlin.ru/text/news/2008/04/164155.shtml
(10) Путин выразил Саакашвили недоумение по поводу полета дрона над Абхазией. 21.4.2008. URL: http://www.lenta.ru/news/2008/04/21/explain/
(11) Совет Безопасности ООН не принял решение по Грузии. 24.4.2008. URL: http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1213036.html
(12) Совбез ООН не принял никаких решений на экстренном заседании. 24.4.2008. URL: http://www.regnum.ru/news/991448.html
(13) МИД РФ: Представленное Грузией видео гибели беспилотника смонтировано. 29.4.2008. URL: http://topnews.ru/news_id_19859.html
(14) Постпред РФ при ОБСЕ назвал “вымыслом” позицию Грузии по авиаинциденту. 24.4.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/politics/20080424/105856680.html
(15) ВВС РФ: Грузинский самолет был сбит средствами ПВО Абхазии. 21.4.2008. URL: http://www.vz.ru/news/2008/4/21/161683.html
(16) Грузия обвинила ВВС России в уничтожении своего беспилотника. 21.4.2008. URL: http://www.lenta.ru/news/2008/04/21/jet/
(17) Абхазские военные снова заметили грузинский самолет-разведчик. 28.3.2008. URL: http://www.lenta.ru/news/2008/03/28/abkhaz/
(18) Министерство обороны России обвинило Грузию в провокациях и пообещало “жесткий ответ”. 29.4.2008. URL: http://www.sololaki.ru/word/?p=42
(19) Минобороны Грузии: агрессивные действия России не останутся без ответа. 26.4.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/politics/20080426/105973715.html
(20) Окруашвили получил политическое убежище во Франции. 23.4.2008. URL: http://www.lenta.ru/news/2008/04/23/okruashvili/
(21) В Тбилиси считают, что война в Абхазии может начаться в любой момент и предлагают вывести оттуда российских миротворцев. 24.4.2008. URL: http://www.regnum.ru/news/991754.html
(22) Брифинг посла по особым поручениям, специального представителя МИД РФ по вопросам отношений со странами СНГ Валерия КЕНЯЙКИНА на тему: «О ситуации в зонах конфликтов: Абхазии, Южной Осетии, Приднестровье». 25.4.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/pressclub/video/105917270.asx
(23) Ukraine, Georgia call on Russia to refrain from announced plans. 1.5.2008. URL: http://www.unomig.org/media/headlines/?id=10551&y=2008&m=
(24) Bakradze bol v druhej polovici apríla odvolaný z postu ministra zahraničia a v súvislosti s blížiacimi sa parlamentnými voľbami vymenovaný za špeciálneho splnomocnenca prezidenta. Bližšie pozri: Давид Бакрадзе получил статус спецпредставителя президента Грузии. 24.4.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/politics/20080424/105812340.html
(25) NATO Backs Georgia in Dispute with Russia, Seeks Reversal of Recent Moves by Russia in Abkhazia. In: Georgia Update: A service of the Government of Georgia, April 39, 2008
(26) Грузия пытается поссорить Россию с НАТО. Официальный представитель альянса обвинил грузинские СМИ во лжи. 29.4.2008. URL: http://www.stoletie.ru/na_pervuiu_polosu/gruziya_pitaetsya_possorit_
(27) Text rezolúcie dostuplý z URL: http://www.unomig.org/data/file/973/080415_SC_resolution_eng.pdf
(28) МИД РФ обвинил Грузию в несанкционированной военной деятельности. 22.4.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/politics/20080422/105622580.html
(29) Text Dohody dostupný z URL: http://abkhaziya.net/2008/04/22/soglashenie/
(30) Брифинг посла по особым поручениям, специального представителя МИД РФ по вопросам отношений со странами СНГ Валерия КЕНЯЙКИНА на тему: «О ситуации в зонах конфликтов: Абхазии, Южной Осетии, Приднестровье». 25.4.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/pressclub/video/105917270.asx
(31) Сергей Шамба: миротворцы РФ в зоне конфликта Абхазии и Грузии действуют в соответствии с мандатом. 30.4.2008. URL: http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1213835.html
(32) Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia. 30.4.2008. URL: http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/RWB.NSF/db900SID/KKAA-
(33) Russian moves inflame tensions with Georgia. 1.5.2008. URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/01/russia.georgia
(34) Брифинг посла по особым поручениям, специального представителя МИД РФ по вопросам отношений со странами СНГ Валерия КЕНЯЙКИНА на тему: «О ситуации в зонах конфликтов: Абхазии, Южной Осетии, Приднестровье». 25.4.2008. URL: http://www.rian.ru/pressclub/video/105917270.asx
(35) Абхазия и российские миротворцы опровергают информацию о вводе абхазских войск в Гальский район. 25.4.2008. URL: http://kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1213181.html
(36)Грузия готовится к «сербскому прецеденту». 26.4.2008. URL: . 26.4.2008. URL:
(37) Pozri: МИД России обвиняет Грузию в подготовке военной операции против Абхазии. 29.4.2008. URL: http://www.regnum.ru/news/993954.html, a tiež Россия готовит военную операцию против Грузии. 29.4.2008. URL: http://www.apsny.ge/news/1209498555.php