Georgia Threatens To Shoot Down Jets

ReutersGeorgia's ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, arriving Friday in Tbilisi.
Georgia will shoot down any Russian fighter jets that violate its airspace, two senior Georgian officials said Friday, a day after Russia's admission that it had flown sorties over the breakaway republic of South Ossetia.

Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Iakobashvili said his country had the right to shoot down flights that violated its territorial integrity.

"It's the first time, probably, since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait that we see these sort of violations," Iakobashvili said by telephone from Tbilisi. "Obviously, Georgia has a sovereign right to defend its territory and airspace."

Georgia would nonetheless prefer to settle the dispute via diplomacy, Iakobashvili said.

Nika Rurua, deputy head of the Georgian parliament's defense and national security committee, accused Russia of trying to provoke a military confrontation with the flights and said Georgia would respond to such actions with force.

"If Russian warplanes infringe again into Georgian airspace, they will have to return to pick up the wreckage," Rurua told reporters in Tbilisi, Interfax reported.

The remarks came as Georgia recalled its ambassador to Russia, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, for consultations over the brewing conflict over South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia. Kitsmarishvili arrived in Tbilisi on Friday afternoon.

In a sharply worded statement, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said it had recalled Kitsmarishvili "in connection with an endless series of provocations and acts of military aggression carried out recently by the Russian Federation."

Russian fighter jets flew over South Ossetia on Tuesday in what the Russian Foreign Ministry called a response to reports that Georgian forces were preparing a military incursion into the region. Georgia accused Russia of carrying out the mission to spoil a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

During her visit, Rice on Thursday called for a group of senior diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States to meet to find a solution over the Georgia dispute.

Moscow will reject the call, Interfax reported Friday, citing a Russian diplomatic source. "We don't see any reason for anyone's mediation in settling relations," the source said. "We have direct dialogue with Georgia and contacts are continuing."

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met Thursday with Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, repeated Russia's position Friday that Georgian aggression is stoking the crisis.

"Moscow and Sukhumi believe that an exit from this complicated situation can only be found through an immediate cessation of provocations and the signing of documents about the suspension of force in both conflicts," Lavrov said in a statement on his ministry's web site.

Repeated calls to the ministry for comment went unanswered Friday.

Georgia has long accused Russia of violating its airspace, but until Thursday, Moscow had repeatedly denied crossing the border. It was the first admission by Russia in at least a decade that it had sent warplanes into Georgia's internationally recognized territory.