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Ivanov Calls Missile Claim Theatrical

ST. PETERSBURG -- First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov on Saturday accused Georgia of faking the alleged release of a missile from a Russian aircraft into Georgian territory.

Georgian officials said the missile, which did not explode, came from a Russian military aircraft that violated Georgian airspace on Aug. 6. The incident occurred near the border with South Ossetia, a separatist Georgian region that seeks to become part of Russia.

Russian officials have consistently denied that any of the country's aircraft were in the area.

Ivanov called the allegations a "theatrical show" aimed at preventing a planned meeting of a commission of South Ossetian and Georgian authorities to discuss the decade-long standoff over the region's status.

"The authors of this theatrical presentation achieved their main goal -- they ruined the meeting," he said.

Georgia accuses Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia of backing the separatists, and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to bring the region back under central government control.

South Ossetia broke free from Tbilisi in fighting in the mid-1990s. Since then, it has enjoyed de facto independence, led by an internationally unrecognized separatist government. Small clashes sporadically continue to break out more than a decade after the end of the war.

The missile incident raised tensions between Georgia and Russia, which have been especially high over the past year. The two countries have long been at odds over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another pro-Russian separatist region, and over Saakashvili's repeatedly stated determination to bring Georgia into NATO and the European Union.

"The Georgian armed forces are able to repel any aggression. But we will do everything to avoid large-scale armed confrontation," Saakashvili told a group of students Friday. "We should behave as a responsible partner for the United States and for the Euro-Atlantic bodies."

Saakashvili also said Friday that he was ready to meet President Vladimir Putin to resolve tensions stoked last week by the allegations over the missile.

Georgia requested a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council last week to discuss what it called the "act of aggression."

The Security Council on Thursday postponed the requested meeting, saying it needed more information on the incident.

"We would like to hold a substantive meeting with President Putin to resolve all the problems," Saakashvili told the students. "We want all the existing issues between us to be resolved in a constructive mood and in an atmosphere of partnership." (AP, Reuters)


(The Moscow Times 13.viii.07)

 
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