Russia deploys missiles in breakaway Abkhazia, military says
Russia has deployed anti-aircraft missiles in Georgia's breakaway pro-Russian region of Abkhazia, just days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) made a visit to the region on the anniversary of Moscow’s 2008 war with Georgia.
AFP - Russia has deployed sophisticated air defence missiles in Georgia's pro-Moscow rebel region of Abkhazia, the air force commander said Wednesday, in a move that risks stoking tensions with Tbilisi.
"We have deployed the S-300 system on the territory of Abkhazia," air force commander-in-chief General Alexander Zelin said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
"Its role will be anti-aircraft defence of the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in cooperation with the air defence systems of the army," he said.
Georgia insists that Abkhazia and South Ossetia are an integral part of its territory but Russia in 2008 recognised the two regions as independent after its war with Tbilisi.
"The task of these air defence systems is not only to cover the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but to avert violations of state borders in the air," he added.
They were also aimed at the "destruction of any flying object penetrating into the covered territories, whatever aim they were flying with," he added.
Tbilisi rapidly warned that Russia's deployment was of concern not only to Georgia but should also worry NATO. Georgia's ambition to join NATO has long flustered Russia.
"This should be of concern not only for Georgia but also for other regional actors, including NATO," Deputy Prime Minister and Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili told AFP.
Russia at the weekend marked the second anniversary of the outbreak of the war with Georgia, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev making a surprise visit to Abkhazia Sunday, his first trip since the conflict.
In an embarrassment for Moscow, only Venezuela, Nicaragua and the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru have followed its move to recognise the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
The S-300 is one of Russia's most prized missile assets and has been the subject of a long-running controversy over the fulfillment of a contract to deliver the weapons to Iran.
Russia signed a contract to sell the systems to Iran several years ago, but has failed to deliver the weapons amid pressure from the West which fears they would be used against any aerial attack on the Islamic republic.
The 2008 war saw Russian forces pour into Georgia after fighting broke out over South Ossetia, prompting the worst post-Cold War crisis between Russia and the West.