Georgia Recalls Moscow Ambassador

ReutersMikheil Saakashvili and Condoleezza Rice speaking at a joint news conference after their meeting Thursday in Tbilisi.
Georgia recalled its ambassador from Moscow on Thursday after Russia said it had sent its fighter jets into its neighbor's airspace to prevent Georgian troops from attacking a separatist region.

Russia acknowledged the fighter sorties a few hours after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to the Georgian capital, urged Moscow to help ease tensions in the strategic region instead of adding to them.

Georgia's pro-Western government is locked in a confrontation with Russia over two Georgian regions — South Ossetia and Abkhazia — which have rejected Tbilisi's rule and are receiving support from Moscow.

"We will take some aggressive diplomatic steps in order to respond adequately to Russia's actions. One such step is that from today, we are recalling our ambassador in Russia for consultations," Georgian Foreign Minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili said.

Rice, speaking in Tbilisi after talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, said Russia "needs to be a part of resolving the problem and solving the problem and not contributing to it."

Rice backed Georgia's bid to join NATO but also urged all sides to halt a surge of violence in the breakaway regions this month in which at least six people have been killed.

Russia has accused Georgia of orchestrating the violence, a charge Tbilisi denies.

"The violence needs to stop, and whoever is perpetrating it, and I have mentioned this to the president, there should not be violence," Rice told a news conference.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Air Force was compelled to act after it received reports Georgian forces were preparing to launch a military operation on South Ossetia.

"In order to clarify the situation, aircraft of the Russian Air Force carried out a brief flight over the territory of South Ossetia," it added.

"As subsequent events showed, this step allowed [us] to cool hotheads in Tbilisi and prevent events from developing along military lines, the likelihood of which was more than real."

It was Russia's first admission for at least a decade that its Air Force has flown over Georgian territory without permission. Georgia has said in the past that Russia trespassed in its airspace but Moscow has always denied it.