Russian and Georgian delegations are set to hold bilateral consultations in presence of the OSCE's Finnish chairmanship over the April 20 downing of an unmanned Georgian aerial vehicle (UAV) over Abkhazia.
The consultations will be then followed by discussions of the matter within a larger format at the OSCE Permanent Council and the Forum for Security Cooperation.
The procedures follow the Georgian side’s decision to utilise the so-called Vienna Mechanism over the matter. The 1999 OSCE Vienna Document stipulates that participating states should consult and co-operate with each other “about any unusual and unscheduled activities of their military forces outside their normal peacetime locations.”
In an exchange of notes between the Georgian and Russian delegations at the OSCE in the frames of this mechanism, the Russian Federation claimed that the April 20 incident did not fall within the scope of the Vienna Document, because, as Moscow put it, the incident was purely “a bilateral, Georgian-Abkhaz, matter” and it had nothing to do with it. The Russian side has also continued to claim that evidence based on which Georgia and UN observers concluded that the drone was shot down by a Russian aircraft was “questionable.” The same line was adhered to by Russia during the discussion of the matter at the UN Security Council meeting on May 30.
The Russian delegation also said that Georgia itself was fomenting tension by conducting flights over the conflict zone, which according to Moscow, resulted in the downing of seven Georgian drones by the Abkhaz air defense system.
In public statements Georgian officials, initially, confirmed the downing of only one drone – on April 20. In an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant, Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili subsequently acknowledged that Tbilisi had lost two drones.
However, in a note sent to the Russian delegation at the OSCE by the Georgian side, dated June 1, Tbilisi confirmed the downing of three of its drones.
“The Georgian side confirms the destruction of three of its UAVs targeted by Russian Federation military aircraft or Air Defence Forces (air-defence system “BUK”- SA-11 Gadfly), recently deployed in the conflict zone,” the Georgian note reads.
Sergey Shamba, the foreign minister of breakaway Abkhazia, confirmed in early May that the Abkhaz side possessed a Buk ground-to-air air defense system.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on June 4, saying that Georgia’s attempt to push the drone incident at the OSCE was yet another attempt by Tbilisi “to put responsibility for increasing tensions in the conflict zone on Russia, which is not a side in the conflict.”
“The facts indicate that Tbilisi masterminded all the recent provocations,” it said.
Meanwhile, in Tbilisi, the Georgian foreign minister, Eka Tkeshelashvili, said on June 4 that although tensions remained, a phone conversation between the Georgian and Russian presidents on June 3 had been held in “a warm and constructive” manner.
The two presidents are expected to meet in St. Petersburg this week on the sidelines of an economic forum.
Giorgi Baramidze, the Georgian state minister for Euro-Atlantic integration, said on June 4 that the meeting would be held amidst a very “difficult situation.”
“[Russia’s recent moves] amount to obvious aggression against Georgia,” he said. “Preparation for a large-scale intervention for the annexation of a part of Georgia’s territory is underway.”
Georgia claims that the Russian deployment of Railway Forces in Abkhazia to repair the breakaway region’s rail infrastructure is a prelude to intervention.