Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 122

Georgia’s Foreign and Defense Ministries have made public additional, conclusive information regarding the June 19 violation of the country’s airspace by Russian MiG-29 airplanes (see the Monitor, June 21). The four jets took off from the Millerovo airfield in the Rostov region, Russia, overflew Georgia for thirty-seven minutes and landed in Armenia for permanent deployment with the Russian forces in that country. Georgia’s air control had not been informed in advance and withheld permission for the overflight after the Russian planes had already intruded. The Russian pilots–whose radio conversations were intercepted–ignored the Georgian military traffic controllers’ demands to turn back. The Russian planes flew in the international air traffic corridor–a breach of basic safety regulations. Georgia handed over an official protest note to the Russian ambassador in Tbilisi and made the note public.

Tbilisi disclosed, furthermore, that similar incidents have taken place earlier this year. In three separate incidents in February and March, a group of five MiG-29 and two Antonov military transport planes flew from Russia to Armenia through Georgia’s airspace without Georgia’s permission. The situation illustrates the security risks–not just of a military nature–which Georgia faces as a result of Russia’s military presence in Armenia. Russian forces sometimes also use overland routes through Georgia to supply the Russian bases in Armenia–and the Armenian forces as well–without Georgian authorization.

The Russian side ignored Georgia’s quiet complaints over the earlier airspace violations, but had to respond to Tbilisi’s public protest over the latest incident. The Air Force Command in Moscow issued a statement denying the violation on the grounds that the Georgian side “can not prove it” and that the radio intercepts “do not constitute evidence in international practice.” Moreover, the Russian Command claimed, “no Russian Air Force planes flew near Georgia’s borders at the time indicated.” (Prime-news, Kavkasia-press, AP, Reuters, Itar-Tass, June 22). This particular claim recalls the denials issued by Russia’s military and civilian authorities in the wake of air attacks on Chechen towns in the 1995-96 war. “No Russian planes flew missions at the time indicated” was Moscow’s standard response then as well.