Renewed tensions between Russia and Georgia have spilled over to the United Nations where Tbilisi’s envoy accused his Moscow counterpart of using ”Soviet-era propaganda” as part of efforts to destabilise his country.
On the eve of the launch on Wednesday of Nato military exercises in Georgia, Alexander Lomaia denied a claim by Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, that a large-scale Georgian military build-up was under way near the breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“The Russian ambassador’s statement is yet another example of Soviet-era propaganda which is not factual and whose sole purpose is to mislead,” the Georgian envoy told a press conference.
The diplomatic spat reflected heightened tensions between the two neighbours, who fought a five-day war last August in which Russia crushed a Georgian assault on South Ossetia and sent troops into Georgia.
Moscow has criticised Nato’s decision to hold the exercises – Mr Churkin said it was “most unfortunate” – and the atmosphere was further soured this week by a mutiny at a Georgian army base that was intended to disrupt the war games. Georgia said on Tuesday it had quelled the rebellion.
Mr Churkin made his remarks about the alleged military build-up at a press conference on Monday to mark the start of Russia’s presidency of the UN Security Council during May.
He said Georgia had deployed troops, heavy weapons and artillery in areas bordering South Ossetia, while a further 2,000 special forces and Grad rockets had been deployed near Abkhazia.
Referring to the Nato exercises, Mr Churkin noted that last year’s war came shortly after US troops took part in exercises in Georgia. He said the government in Tbilisi had “a track record of drawing the wrong conclusions from military exercises”.
The Georgian envoy countered that Russia had increased its military presence in what he termed the occupied areas of Georgia and was conducting naval exercises close to the territorial waters of the former Soviet republic.
On the Georgian troop uprising, he said: “I will abstain from linking this mutiny to any foreign sources…but it would come as no surprise if it was linked to a specific country. The leaders of that country are making no secret of their plan to have Georgia destabilised and dismantled.”
It was Mr Lomaia’s first press conference since taking up his post this year. Irakli Alasania, his predecessor, quit in December to return to Georgia as a leader of the opposition to President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Although a staunch defender of the Georgian position during last August’s conflict, he has since held the president responsible for provoking the war. He has said the government’s failure to reach agreements with the breakaway regions on non-use of force was a strategic mistake.
Russia’s Mr Churkin said this week that the present situation indicated that such agreements were still necessary.
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