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Russia beefs up forces in Georgia conflict zone

Latest update : 2008-04-29

Russia's defence ministry announced it will increase its peacekeeping presence in the rebel Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in response to what it called aggressive moves by pro-Western Georgia. (Report: S. Silke)

 

MOSCOW, April 29  - Russia said on Tuesday it was beefing up its peacekeeping force in Georgia’s breakaway regions to counter a military build-up by Tbilisi, prompting Georgia to condemn the move as illegal and irresponsible.

 

The Russian plan to send extra troops to the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions marked a new escalation in a crisis between the two ex-Soviet neighbours that has alarmed Georgia’s allies in the West.

 

“We consider this to be an utterly irresponsible step ... We think this step, if they take this step, will utterly destabilise this region,” Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told reporters after an emergency session of Georgia’s security council.

 

“We will consider the additional soldiers and arms as illegal and potential aggressors,” he said. Georgia has denied any military build-up near the separatist regions, over which it has vowed to restore its control.

 

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana was expected to discuss the tensions at talks in Luxembourg with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later on Tuesday.

 

Russia announced the new troops four days after saying it would use force to defend its compatriots if Georgia attacked the regions, which threw off Tbilisi’s control in wars in the 1990s. Most residents hold Russian passports.

 

Russian officials said Georgian forces had been building up on Abkhazia’s borders, sending aircraft over the conflict zone and harassing Russian peacekeepers. They said Tbilisi appeared to be creating a bridgehead for an attack.

 

“This turn of events has given rise to the necessity for a forced increase in the Russian armed forces peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zones, within the numbers set out in ... international agreements,” it said in a statement.

 

 

TENSION

 

The latest crisis between Moscow and Tbilisi came after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered officials to intensify ties with the separatists, citing concerns about the welfare of people living there.

 

Georgia called it a de facto annexation of its territory and NATO urged Moscow to revoke Putin’s order. Some observers said Russia was punishing Tbilisi for its ambitions to join the Western military alliance.

 

Also this month, Tbilisi alleged that a Russian air force jet had shot down an unmanned Georgian aircraft carrying out reconnaissance over Abkhazia. Russia denied the allegation, saying it had been shot down by separatist forces.

Date created : 2008-04-29

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