Georgia said it had suspended flights of its unmanned reconnaissance drones over Abkhazia, after UN observers said it violated the 1994 Moscow agreement on ceasefire and separation of forces.
Irakli Alasania, the Georgia’s ambassador in UN, however, said that Tbilisi would resume flights of its unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) over Abkhazia if the threat occurred.
“I openly said [at the meeting of the UN Security Council session] that since the [UNOMIG] report was issued, the Georgian side stopped overflights to honor the words of the current report. It doesn't mean that we will not use these military capabilities if the threat will occur in the region… But at this point since the report came out we’ve stopped these overflights,” he said at a news conference after the Security Council meeting.
The UN Security Council meeting was convened upon the request of the Georgian side to discuss findings of the investigation conducted by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), which said that Georgia’s UAV was shot down over Abkhazia on April 20 by the aircraft belonging to the Russian air force.
The UNOMIG report, however, also said that it considered “a reconnaissance mission by a military aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, constituted ‘military action’ and therefore contravened the Moscow Agreement [on ceasefire and separation of forces].”
The United States deputy representatives to UN, Alejandro Wolff, however, said it was not clear from the 1994 Moscow agreement whether UAV flight was a violation.
“We believe the ceasefire agreement of 1994, the Moscow agreement, at best is unclear on this issue,” Wolff said. “It's an interpretation as to whether a UAV reconnaissance craft that cannot be armed constitutes military action.”
“We have a separate issue, which is a conclusion now reached by the UNOMIG independent investigators that the Russian aircraft flying from Russia, flew into the Georgian territory and shot down [Georgia’s] UAVs and that is very dangerous development, highly provocative and clearly is a violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Georgia’s UN envoy said that in general discussions at the UN Security Council were “very, very important.”
“The most part of the members reiterated their strong condemnation of the act of aggression against the Georgian sovereignty by the Russian military aircraft,” Alasania said.
Vitaly Churkin, the Russia’s UN envoy, however, said in a response to these remarks: “Ambassador Alasania chose again to put into the mouth of Security Council members the words that they have not actually used, like ‘aggression’ and stuff like that; but you know our Georgian friends are very temperamental so they tend to do that time to time.”
He also said that although he was encouraged by Tbilisi’s decision to stop drone overflights, he regretted about Ambassador Alasania’s remarks reserving right to resume UAVs’ flights – something, Churkin said, the Georgian representatives did not say at the Security Council meeting.
“I hope that that statement [made at the UN Security Council] carries more weight than the qualification Ambassador Alasania chose while speaking to you [journalists] after the official meeting,” Churkin said.
Speaking with reporters, the Georgian UN envoy also said that the Russian side had failed to provide the UN Security Council with substantiated explanation of the April 20 incident; he said the Russian explanations were “not comprehensible” and “viable.”
He also said that there was “no strong denial of their involvement in the incident.” Instead, Alasania said, the Russian side tried to shift emphasis from the fact of downing of the drone itself. In their recent public remarks on the matter the Russian officials were saying that investigation of “root cause” – i.e. unauthorized flights over the conflict zone - of the incident was more important.
“We emphasized [at the UN Security Council meeting] that one thing is clear is that flight of drone is violation and provocation that triggered the incident,” the Russian UN ambassador told journalists.
He also said that at the Security Council meeting that the Russian side pointed out at “technical inconsistencies” that were observed in the UNOMIG probe over the April 20 incident. Churkin noted that there was nothing in the report indicating that the fighter jet crossed into the Abkhazia from the Russian Federation.
“There also was no conversation between the pilot [of the aircraft] and ground control,” he continued. “Expert tell me that it is virtually impossible to shoot down a drone from a fighter jet without a communication between the pilot and ground control. So something is missing in the entire puzzle.”
He also reiterated the Russia’s position that the footage transmitted from the drone’s on-board camera before it was shot down, showing twin-tail jet fire missile, was fabricated.
Churkin said the Russian Federation was prepared to conduct “thorough investigation” and also to involve foreign experts in the process.
He also pointed out that discussions of this type at the UN were not objective without participation of the Abkhaz side.
Churkin, however, said that he was encouraged with these discussions, because awareness of the need of presence of the Abkhaz side had increased among the Security Members and he hoped next time the Abkhaz side would be invited.
The Georgian UN envoy said that during the Security Council meeting the Georgian side pushed shifting of the current Russian-led peacekeeping operation to police and security law enforcement operation in the Abkhaz conflict zone.
The Russian ambassador, however, said: “Any kind of change of the format would require an agreement of the Abkhaz side. As far as I know the Abkhaz side continues to believe that Russian role there is crucial.”
“We are concerned that those suggestions [on change of peacekeeping format] and emphasis they put on those things is just another way for them [the Georgian side] to get away from serious things, starting from an agreement on non-use of force and return of refugees,” he added.