Tbilisi Accuses Russia of Flying 27 Fighter Jets to Abkhaz Base

TBILISI, Georgia -- Georgia's foreign minister accused Russia on Friday of sending more than two dozen fighter jets to a base in the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Russian and Abkhaz officials denied the claim.

Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said 27 jets are now at the former Soviet airfield at Gudauta, which he said was a flagrant violation of a 1999 treaty on conventional forces in Europe. Speaking to journalists in the parliament, he said the deployment was clearly aimed against Georgia.

But Garry Kupalba, deputy defense minister of Abkhazia, said there were no Russian jets at the Gudauta air base and that the base had not been used since 1993. The Abkhaz leadership was in discussions with Moscow about military cooperation, he said. "If a decision is made to establish an air base, we will announce it officially," Kupalba said.

Russian Air Force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said the Georgian comments were "irresponsible."

"No Russian military airplanes have been stationed either on the territory of Abkhazia or the territory of South Ossetia," he said, Interfax reported.

In Washington, the State Department voiced concern about Russia's plans, which it said included the establishment of a naval base at the port of Ochamchire and army bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in addition to the possible deployment of combat aircraft.

Robert Wood, acting spokesman at the State Department, said the bases would "violate Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity," to which Russia committed itself in UN Security Council resolutions.

A NATO spokesman said Friday that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov had "agreed to disagree" on Russia's plans to establish the bases during a security conference in Munich.

(AP, Reuters)