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Russian Overflight Discussed at OSCE
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 16 Jul.'08 / 11:58

A special session of the OSCE Permanent Council on July 14 discussed incursion by Russian military aircraft into Georgian airspace over breakaway South Ossetia on July 8.

The session also heard a report by Heikki Talvitie, the special envoy of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, who visited Moscow and Tbilisi last week amid increasing tensions between the two countries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry admitted on July 10 that Russian aircraft had flown a sortie over South Ossetia on July 8 to “cool hot heads in Tbilisi” and to prevent, as it said, a planned military incursion into South Ossetia by Georgian forces in response to the detention of four Georgian servicemen by South Ossetian militiamen.

At the special session of the OSCE Permanent Council, the Russian delegation continued to justify the Russian incursion by the need to prevent what they said was an imminent Georfian military operation in the breakaway region.

“The Russian took the decision to send Air Force aircraft on a brief flight over the territory of the conflict zone in order to clarify the situation,” Russia’s acting representative to the OSCE, Vladimir Voronkov, told the Permanent Council session in Vienna. “This pre-emptive measure, which was understood as such by the Georgian authorities, prevented  the use of force and possible bloodshed.”

Georgian Ambassador Victor Dolidze told the session that Russia’s justification of “the act of aggression” was “feeble,” based on “speculative ‘information’ on alleged plans of the Georgian side to undertake a military invasion.”

He pointed out that an agreement with the South Ossetian side on the release of the four Georgian servicemen had been reached by 3pm local time on July 8.

“Being fully aware of the release of the Georgian servicemen, it is clear that by 8 pm there could not have been even this artificially created pretext for flying military aircraft over Georgian territory. These flights could no longer serve the purpose stated in the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement since at that time all detainees were already on their way home,” Dolidze said.

In response to the Russian claim that the aircraft had been sent “to clarfiy the situation” on the ground, he said the aircraft were actually incapable of carrying out reconnaissance.

“The flights were conducted at a 6,000-meter altitude, which prevents any clear visual detection of almost anything on the ground, especially in the evening,” the Georgian diplomat said. 

In any case, he continued, Russian spy aircraft didn't even need to enter Georgian airspace to conduct surveillance. “The Georgian side has much evidence - including radar data – of how Russian planes fly along the state borders of Georgia, and conduct aerial reconnaissance of our territory without entering it,” he explained.

Dolidze said the frank admission by the Russian side that it had violated Georgian airspace was a Russian message to the international community that “there are countries deemed by the Russian Federation as its “backyard”, where it is free to behave in any manner it sees fit and there is nothing that the international community can do about it.”

In their addresses to the special session, representatives from the EU French presidency and the United State both condemned the Russian incursion.

EU and the U.S., however, voiced different positions when referring to the need of resumption of negotiations.

While the EU statement called for the resumption of talks “without further delay, and the use of all negotiating formats - including the JCC,” the U.S. statement made at the session called for talks involving the Tbilisi-backed South Ossetian provisional administration, led by Dimitry Sanakoev. The latter is denounced by Tskhinvali and Moscow as Tbilisi’s “puppet.”

“We should call for the resumption of a security dialogue among representatives of the central Georgian government, the Temporary Administrative Unit of South Ossetia [led by Sanakoev], the OSCE, and other interested parties to de-escalate tensions,” the U.S. diplomat, Samuel C. Laeuchli, told the OSCE Permanent Council.

The JCC – Joint Control Commission – is currently the only negotiating format over South Ossetia, involving Georgian, South Ossetian, Russian and Russia’s North Ossetian negotiators. The JCC is currently being boycotted by Tbilisi.

Tbilisi has instead proposed to replace the JCC with a new negotiating body based on a 2+2+2 formula. The North Ossetian side, according to this proposal, would be replaced by the South Ossetian provisional administration and the OSCE and EU would also be included.

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