Russian-Georgian relations are once again at a freezing point. As before, this was initiated by Georgia, the Georgian parliament to be more precise. Yesterday, PRAVDA.Ru reported on the cause of today’s conflict. It was logically concluded that the presidents of both countries, Russia and Georgia, should give their opinions of the situation. Eduard Shevardnadze has already expressed his point of view, rather cautiously by the way. Now, it is Vladimir Putin's turn.
The Russian president said today that the situation on the Russian-Georgian border is alarming, but the lack of cooperation and understanding between partners from both countries is even more disturbing. Vladimir Putin said, “Quite recently, Georgia persuaded us that no terrorists were present in their country. Then, the fact of the presence of terrorists in Georgia was admitted. Next, Georgia said these terrorists were good people with a higher education, not terrorists. As it turned out later, these “highly educated” people were involved in drug trafficing, arms trade, kidnapping, and assassinations.” The Russian stated that these very people brought an UN mission helicopter down, and UN representatives were killed at that. “They, so-called highly-educated people, exacerbated the situation in Abkhazia and attempt to penetrate into Russia. They deliver arms to Chechnya,” the Russian president added. Vladimir Putin hopes that the activities of the Georgian government directed against terrorism “are not just a show but are meant to get rid of terrorists on Georgian territory.” The Russian president stressed that Russia is ready to cooperate with Georgia to solve the problem.
The speech was good on the whole, but it is no answer to the question of who bombed Georgian villages, if such bombings did indeed take place. To tell the truth, nobody expected Vladimir Putin to give any answers at all. As a real diplomat, Vladimir Putin highlighted the key points correctly: he criticized the Georgian government for protecting odious personalities like Ruslan Gelayev. Although the Georgian government admitted this openly, it regrets the fact now. After that, nobody will ever recall some mythical bombings, but if someone does, the Kremlin is ready to provide a strong argument concerning the issue. The argument was published in today’s issue of Rossiiskaya Gazeta (Russian Newspaper), which reported with reference to a competent source in the Georgian Defense Ministry that the bombing at the Pankisi Gorge was executed by a plane of the Georgian Air Force by a direct order from the Georgian government. It was a battleplane with number 15 on its side. However, right before the flight, number 32, belonging to the Russian Air Force, was painted over the number 15. Stars and Russia’s flag were marked on the fuselage, and Georgian pilog Lieutenant Georgy Rusteli piloted the plane. The pilot committed a mistake when he set data in the aiming system, which is why local farmers and not Ruslan Gelayev’s gang became the target.
After the bombing, the plane was delivered to the TbilAviastroitel Tbilisi aviation enterprise, and it is currently there. Specialists discovered a technical failure in the plane: a turbine burnout. They are working on the fault now, and, at the same time, they are erasing the marks intended to make the plan appear to be Russian.
The newspaper also reports that Georgia’s fleet has seven Su-25 warplanes. One of them is a new Su-25 KM model developed together with Elbit Maarahot, specializing in modernization of Russian warplanes. The Su-25 KM is fitted with new airborne equipment and an aircraft complex that allows it to execute maneuvers even at night. The last fact is really very significant. Specialists from the Sukhoi aircraft design bureau say that Russia’s Su-25 planes based in Mozdok couldn’t bomb the Pankisi Gorge at 5:20 a.m., as they have no location equipment to execute maneuvers at night. Moreover, it would be very difficult for a Russian Su-25 to carry out such operations at night, which is even harder in the mountains where radio positioning systems and a radio compass are ineffective.
It is difficult to say whether the article in the Rossiskaya Gazeta is true or is mere misinformation designed to ward the threat off Russia. In any case, this article attaches more importance to today’s speech of President Putin. Georgia certainly denies its guilt. An official from the Georgian Embassy in Moscow, Teimuraz Gamtzemlidze, said in an interview to RIA Novosti that there were no lieutenants with the name of Rusteli, the name of the pilot who is said to have been at the controls of the Su-25 KM.
Dmitry Litvinovich PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva
Read the original in Russian: http://pravda.ru/main/2002/08/28/46334.html