Top general denies Moscow military base plans for Abkhazia

Georgia Materials 15 May 2008 23:13 (UTC +04:00)

Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff, denied on Thursday reports of Moscow's plans to open an air force base in Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia, the RIA Novosti reported.

"I do not know where this information comes from," Gen. Baluyevsky told journalists in Brussels.

Earlier in the day Colonel-General Alexander Zelin, the commander of the Russian Air Force, said that the creation of a Russian base in Abkhazia would increase the security of Russia's borders in the region.

"If a corresponding political decision is made, it will only be to the benefit of air defense," Zelin said.

Baluyevsky also told journalists that he "as the chief of the Russian General Staff did not participate in drafting proposals or recommendations on the opening of a military base in Abkhazia."

On Wednesday Georgia's Foreign Ministry announced its withdrawal from a 1995 CIS unified air defense agreement signed by a number of former Soviet republics, including Russia. Following this statement Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh proposed that Russia open a military base on its territory.

On April 20, Georgia accused Russia of shooting down a drone over Abkhazia, a claim Russia flatly denied, calling the video footage provided by Georgia a fake.

Abkhazia claims its air defenses shot down seven Georgian surveillance drones this year, one on May 8, two on March 18 and April 20, two on May 4 and further two on May 12.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have drastically deteriorated since the Kremlin called for closer ties with the two Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in mid-April.