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U.S.: 'Russia has had S-300 in Abkhazia for Past 2 Years'
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 12 Aug.'10 / 03:46

Russia's announcement about deploying sophisticated air-defense system, S-300, in breakaway Abkhazia might not be a new development, as Russia has maintained such system there since 2008, August war, U.S. Department of State said.

"It’s our understanding that Russia has had S-300 missiles in Abkhazia for the past two years." State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, said at a news briefing in Washington on August 11.

"We can’t confirm whether they [Russia] have added to those systems or not. We will look into that. This by itself is not necessarily a new development. That system has been in place for some time," he added.

Reuters reported quoting unnamed Pentagon official that the U.S. could not yet confirm the deployment of new missiles and was seeking further information.

"But the absence of transparency and international monitoring in Abkhazia makes this difficult," the official said.

Commander of the Russian Air Forces, Colonel General Alexander Zelin, said on August 11, that Russia had deployed long range S-300 in Abkhazia to protect its airspace and Russian military bases deployed there. He said that S-300 missile system "will cover only facilities located on the territory of Abkhazia". Air defense of South Ossetia is provided with other systems, Zelin said.

"At the same time, the task of air defense of Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be also implemented by frontline and army aviation carrying out combat duties there," Zelin added.

No other details, including the date of deployment were reported.

Asked about the Russia's announcement, foreign minister of breakaway Abkhazia, Maxim Gvinjia, initially denied in an interview with BBC Russian service that S-300 were deployed in Abkhazia, suggesting that Col. Gen. Zelin's remarks were probably misunderstood by journalists.

However, later, in an interview with RIA Novosti news agency, Gvinjia said that S-300 was deployed and added that it was in line with an agreement on military cooperation between Moscow and Sokhumi.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry condemned the move and said it "represents a clear example of reinforcement of military dimension of Russia's declared imperial policy of 'spheres of influence'."

"It is absolutely incomprehensible for what purpose this extremely dangerous and provocative step may serve, which poses threat to the security of not only the Black Sea region, but of entire Europe," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on August 11.

The S-300 is a long-range air defense able to engage number of targets simultaneously and to detect, track and destroy cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and aircraft at low-to-high altitude. 

Georgian State Minister for Reintegration, Temur Iakobashvili, said if the purpose of deployment was Georgia, then the decision lacked rationality. "First of all, it is NATO that should be concerned about it," Iakobashvili added.

Russian military analyst, Alexander Golts, told RFE/RL Russian-language service, Ekho Kavkaza, that Russia's decision "looks strange." It's like "shooting sparrow with cannon," he said and suggested that the decision did not seem to be taken by the military leadership.

"It's a purely political decision aimed at demonstrating Russia's resolve to defend Abkhazia's independence with all the means... It's part of propagandistic declarations," Golts said.

Vladimir Socor of U.S. think-tank Jamestown Foundation wrote on August 11 that Russia's S-300 in Abkhazia "cannot conceivably aim at Georgian air targets."

"The Russian deployment’s most likely goal is to create a capability for interdicting Georgian, or indeed US and NATO, flights over the adjacent Black Sea area, Georgia’s interior, and the South Caucasus air corridor," Socor suggested. "Russian interdiction capability can deter Georgia, the United States and its allies from using those flight paths in certain contingencies; or can compel them to clear their flight plans with Russia in certain contingencies."

Commander of the Russian Air Forces also said on August 11 that the task of air defense systems in Abkhazia and South Ossetia "is also to prevent violation of Abkhaz and South Ossetian airspace and to destroy any aircraft illegally penetrating into thier airspace no matter what their purpose might be."

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