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Friday, September 28, 2007

Saakashvili Blasts Russia at the UN

The Guardian reports:

Georgia's president told world leaders Wednesday that Russia continues to interfere in its domestic politics and engage in "reckless and dangerous'' behavior, the latest in a series of conflicts between the two countries. In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly, President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of trying to skew reports of an incident last week in the breakaway region of Abkhazia in which Georgian forces killed two Russian military officials.

Saakashvili, who has vowed to bring the region back under Georgian control and accuses Russians of backing the separatists, said claims by a senior Russian official that the men killed were innocent were "unconstructive, unsubstantiated and wholly untrue.''

"One has to wonder - what was a vice colonel of the Russian military doing in the Georgian forests, organizing and leading a group of armed insurgents on a mission of terror?'' the Georgian leader said. Immediately following Saakashvili's speech, Russia's ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, told reporters that the men were instructors at an "anti-terrorist training center'' and were killed Sept. 20 by knife wounds and gunshots to the head. Churkin said he had raised the matter in Security Council consultations earlier Wednesday. "This to us is another manifestation of the course of action which regrettably the Georgian authorities have taken lately ... They have been doing everything to aggravate tensions,'' Churkin said.

Relations between the countries have been strained since Saakashvili came to power following the 2003 Rose Revolution, vowing to take Georgia out of Russia's orbit. Russia opposes Saakashvili's repeatedly stated determination to bring the former Soviet republic into NATO and the European Union, while Georgia accuses Russia of trying to interfere in its internal affairs. In August, Georgia said two Russian planes entered its airspace, one of which dropped a missile that did not explode. Russia denied both claims, although two groups of independent experts that investigated the incident agreed that Georgian airspace was violated three times that day by aircraft flying from Russian airspace. Russia has rejected the reports.

In Saakashvili's speech Wednesday, he said his country would not "lash out angrily'' at Russia. "My government is committed to addressing this subject through diplomatic means, in partnership with the international community. ... Look at how Georgia has responded to the many provocations we have faced in the past year,'' he said.

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