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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia Says It Fired On a Russian Plane

SUKHUMI, Georgia -- Georgian forces fired at a plane they believe was Russian over Georgian territory last week and may have brought it down, a Georgian official said.

Russia denied the incident occurred. But a senior official of Georgia's separatist region of Abkhazia said a plane of uncertain origin had gone down over Abkhazia.

Georgia's claim Friday further escalated tensions with Russia, which soared earlier in the month when Georgia said a Russian bomber dropped a missile on a Georgian village. The missile did not explode. In both cases, Russia denied that its planes violated Georgian airspace. If Georgia did shoot down a Russian plane, it would be the most serious incident in years between the countries.

In the latest claim, Georgia said it fired Wednesday at a plane over upper Abkhazia, a remote, mountainous area.

"The day before yesterday, at 10:24 p.m., a Russian plane was fired on over upper Abkhazia," Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said Friday.

He stressed that Georgian authorities could not confirm that the plane crashed but said residents of the remote area reported hearing an explosion and seeing forest land burning.

On Saturday, the chief of staff of Abkhazia's military, Anatoly Zaitsev, told reporters that a plane or its fragments definitely had crashed Wednesday and that he had seen the plane himself.

"The aircraft was going down, a volley of bluish smoke was coming after it, and there were two large fragments flying behind its tail from inertia for a while. One of them is believed to have fallen in the lower part of the Kodor Gorge," he said. The gorge runs from Georgian territory into separatist-controlled territory.

He did not specify what kind of plane it was, but said it was not a type possessed by the Georgian military.

Interfax quoted him as speculating that "most likely it was an American reconnaissance aircraft," but RIA-Novosti later quoted him as denying making that comment.

A U.S. Embassy press official in Tbilisi, Khatia Dzhindzhikhadze, said there was no immediate comment on the Interfax report.

An Air Force spokesman, Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, said on Channel One television Saturday that Georgia's claim Friday was "the latest provocation aimed against us."

The Defense Ministry said no Russian military planes were flying in the area at the time, RIA-Novosti reported.

Russia earlier said the Georgian claim of the dropped missile was a fabrication aimed at ratcheting up tensions over the status of South Ossetia, another rebellious region that, like Abkhazia, seeks to become independent or incorporated into Russia.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has vowed to bring the regions back under his government's control and has irritated Moscow by pushing for Georgia to join NATO. The United States and other NATO countries have given substantial military aid to Georgia, which Russians widely regard as an attempt to establish a beachhead in territory that historically has been under Russian control or influence.