Armed Forces Chief Calls Jet Story a Fake

TBILISI, Georgia -- General Yury Baluyevsky, head of the General Staff, on Thursday accused Georgia of fabricating a report of a Russian missile attack as the two countries continued bickering over an incident that heightened bilateral tensions.

Georgia said radar data proved Russian jets violated its airspace Monday and fired a missile aiming at a Georgian radar site. The missile, which did not explode, landed near a village in the northwestern Gori region near Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia, which is patrolled by Russian peacekeepers, Georgia said.

Baluyevsky said Georgia concocted the incident in order to foment tensions.

"I'm convinced that it was a provocation by Georgia ... a provocation against the Russian peacekeepers and Russia as a whole," Baluyevsky said in televised comments during a visit to China.

In Tbilisi, Levan Nikoleishvili, Georgia's first deputy defense minister, said Baluyevsky's statement was "sheer nonsense."

Tbilisi has accused Moscow of trying to destabilize the country and of backing separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that broke away from Georgia during wars in the 1990s. President Mikheil Saakashvili, whose efforts to integrate into the West and join NATO have irked Moscow, has vowed to return the regions to federal control.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that records from radar sites compatible with NATO standards showed that a Russian Su-24 jet had flown from Russia into Georgia and launched a missile. Investigators identified the weapon as a Russian-made Raduga Kh-58 missile, designed to hit radar sites, the ministry said. The missile, code-named AS-11 by NATO, carried a 140-kilogram warhead.

Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov, head of the Air Force Main Staff, said Thursday that a Russian aircraft was not responsible. "It's a political invention," Khvorov said at a news conference.

Georgian officials said their country had no Su-24 jets or missiles of that type.

The Russian missile missed its target because the Georgian military switched off the radar after it had detected the intrusion and the missile's launch, Georgian Defense Ministry spokesman Zurab Pochkua Thursday told Rustavi-2 television. "We switched the radar off so that the missile wouldn't home in on it," Pochkua said.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry called the incident "undisguised aggression" and sought an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

The U.S. State Department on Wednesday condemned what it described as a "rocket attack" without naming a responsible party and praised Georgia's restraint.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said its mission in Georgia had confirmed that Georgian airspace was violated, but could not say how many and what kind of aircraft were involved. The mission also said it could not identify the missile.

In Brussels, a NATO spokesman said Thursday that the alliance was following the investigation and was staying in close touch with the Georgian government.