Georgian forces fired at a Russian plane flying over Georgian territory earlier this week, a government official said Friday, claiming residents nearby reported an explosion and fire afterward. Russia immediately denied the claim.
The dispute came amid heated disagreement between the ex-Soviet neighbors over Georgian accusations of airspace violations by Russian military aircraft.
“The day before yesterday, at 22:24 hours, a Russian plane was fired at over Upper Abkhazia,” Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told The Associated Press. He stressed that Georgian authorities could not confirm the plane crashed, but said residents of the remote area reported hearing an explosion and seeing forest land burning.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said no Russian military planes were flying in the area at the time, RIA-Novosti news agency reported.
“This is the latest ... provocation aimed against us,” Russian air force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said, according to RIA-Novosti. “I once again declare that Russian air force planes have not violated the Georgian border.”
Georgia on Wednesday said a Russian plane had violated its airspace in the same area a day earlier, but officials did not mention firing on a Russian plane until late Friday. Utiashvili said that was because they were still checking information.
He said the site where the plane may have crashed was in Georgian-controlled territory but that it was rugged and difficult to reach. Upper Abkhazia is the Georgian government’s term for the Kodori Gorge, a volatile area on the fringes of the pro-Russian breakaway republic of Abkhazia that is partially under central government control.
Utiashvili would not say what weapons were fired at the plane. Under an agreement between Georgia and the internally unrecognized government of Abkhazia, which broke away from central government control in the early 1990s, Georgian defense ministry forces and heavy weaponry cannot be deployed in the Kodori Gorge. Interior Ministry forces are not prohibited.
If Georgian forces did shoot down a Russian plane, it would be the most serious incident in years of increasingly strained relations between the former Soviet republics.