Since the latest outbreak of war in the North Caucasus, the Russian government and military are publicly charging almost on a daily basis that the territories of Georgia and Azerbaijan are being used by “international terrorism” for supplying and reinforcing “Islamic fundamentalist” and “separatist” forces. The charges are as a rule wholly unsubstantiated, sometimes echoing sensationalist stories in the Russian press. Nor are they being followed up by presentations of the evidence to Georgia and Azerbaijan in the course of diplomatic and interministerial contacts. The two countries’ presidents and governments categorically deny the charges and openly question the motives behind this campaign. The accusations may well spring in part from internal Russian circumstances, but they provide cause for growing concern in Baku and Tbilisi. Officials in the two capitals privately worry that Moscow is looking for pretexts to demand an increase or reintroduction–as the case may be–of its border troops and intelligence presence in Georgia and Azerbaijan and to drag the two countries into some joint operations under Russian control (see the Monitor, October 5).
Against this background, violations of Azerbaijani and Georgian airspace by Russian military aircraft have suddenly increased. President Eduard Shevardnadze disclosed on October 4 that Russian fighter-bombers and helicopters have most recently intruded into Georgia’s airspace on a number of occasions in the course of their combat missions. Without providing details, Shevardnadze commented that Georgia’s air defense could have shot down some of the intruding airplanes, but was ordered to take no action which could put Georgia’s relations with Russia at risk. In a well-publicized case in August, Russian aircraft had accidentally bombed Georgian territory. Moscow apologized after that incident, but has not acknowledged the latest ones. Earlier this year, Russian fighter planes bound for bases in Armenia repeatedly overflew Georgia without authorization or even prenotification, prompting indignant Georgian protests (see the Monitor, February 22, April 15-16, 23).
On October 1, a Russian Su-24 fighter-bomber intruded twenty-eight kilometers into Azerbaijan and dropped a bomb or missile before reentering Russian airspace over Dagestan. Azerbaijan lodged a protest which the Russian side has brushed aside. Russia’s Air Force commander, Colonel-General Anatoly Kornukov, used terms familiar from the 1994-96 Russian-Chechen war in denying the facts: “It did not happen and could not have happened because no Russian aircraft was in that area and no air operations were underway there.”
The Azerbaijani parliament yesterday adopted a resolution condemning the intrusion and expressing Azerbaijan’s “serious concern” over its possible implications. The parliament, moreover, rejected the accusations that the country serves as a conduit for supplies to warring groups in the North Caucasus; asked Russian officials to stop making such accusations which can only damage bilateral relations; and “energetically protested” against recent discriminatory measures in Moscow against resident Azeris, who–the resolution said–are being targeted along with other residents of Caucasus origin simply on the basis of their ethnic origin. Since the parliament is firmly controlled by the executive branch, the resolution is to be taken as an expression of President Haidar Aliev’s and the government’s views (Radio Tbilisi, Prime-News, AzadInform, Turan, Itar-Tass, October 2-5).
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