Russia Will Send More Troops to Abkhazia

The Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that Russia would bolster its peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia in response to Georgian plans to invade the breakaway region.

Tbilisi denied that it had plans to invade the region, which has enjoyed de facto independence from Georgia since a separatist war in the 1990s.

The exchange marked a significant escalation in tensions between the two countries.

The Foreign Ministry said it had intelligence that Georgia had moved more than 1,500 servicemen into the upper Kodor Gorge region and was preparing "a bridgehead" in advance of an invasion.

"According to the information coming in, including from CIS peacekeepers in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone, Georgia is sending weapons, fuel and lubricants, food and other technical means, as well as personnel of the Georgian armed forces to Upper Kodor," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia already maintains a sizeable peacekeeping force in Abkhazia and another breakaway region, South Ossetia. Tbilisi accuses Russia of propping up the rebel governments.

Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia said Interior Ministry servicemen were in Kodor Gorge but denied the presence of Defense Ministry forces.

"What we have there are only police forces to ensure security for the local population," he told Reuters.

"All recent UN monitoring missions confirmed that Georgia is behaving in this region in accordance with previous agreements," he said.

The United Nations monitoring mission in Tbilisi could not be reached to confirm Kutelia's comments on Tuesday. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which also has monitors in the region, was unable to comment on security conditions within the conflict zone.

Russia's Defense Ministry, meanwhile, vowed to use military force if necessary to protect Russian citizens in Abkhazia. Most residents in the region have Russian passports.

The ministry said in a statement that it would deliver "a suitable and tough response" to anyone who attacked Russian citizens, echoing comments made Friday by Valery Kenyaikin, the Foreign Ministry's special envoy for the Commonwealth of Independent States.

UN foreign policy chief Javier Solana planned to urge for calm from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, said spokeswoman Christina Gallach. The pair was meeting in Luxembourg as part of ongoing EU-Russia talks.

"The basic message [Solana] is going to say is that we're right now in a process of escalation of tension and what we have to do on all sides is to calm down," she said by telephone from Luxembourg.

Relations between the two countries worsened earlier this month after Georgia accused the Russian military of shooting down an unmanned spy plane over Abkhazia, a charge denied by Moscow.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili convened an emergency meeting of his Security Council on Tuesday, the second such meeting in less than two weeks. Afterward, Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze told reporters that "from now on, we will consider any additional soldier or military hardware [in the Abkhaz conflict zone] as illegal, as potential aggressors and a potential source of destabilization." Saakashvili was to address the country on Georgian national television on Tuesday night. The address was to be made specifically to the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Itar-Tass reported.