Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 127

In a broadcast to the country on June 28, President Eduard Shevardnadze announced a decision just made by the National Security Council to modernize Georgia’s air defenses with Western support. The decision, in the making for some time, was precipitated by the June 18 incident in which four Russian fighter planes overflew Georgia without permission en route to their base in Armenia–the latest in a series of such violations (see the Monitor, June 21, 24).

Commenting on the latest incident and on Moscow’s dismissive response to Georgian protests, Shevardnadze declared Tbilisi’s resolve to “put an end to the invasion of our air space. No one has the right to overfly our country as if we were still living in the Soviet era, as if we were a republic of the Soviet Empire. Such behavior is intolerable to any country… Georgian air space will be protected. Our friends and allies are helping us in this respect. We consider them our friends and allies because they have never treated Georgia’s sovereignty in such a cavalier manner. Were we to accept violations, even smaller ones, we would thereby be reconciling ourselves to the possibility of being invaded by any country any time.”

Shevardnadze made it clear that Georgia–“in [its] capacity as a transit country”–does not intend to ban Russian military overflights to bases in Armenia, but that Tbilisi insists on regulating such flights in accordance with international law and air safety regulations (Radio Tbilisi, June 28). Concurrently, the Georgian parliament’s defense and security committee chairman, Revaz Adamia, announced that the United States has allocated US$18 million for 1999-2000 to support the modernization of Georgia’s air defenses (Prime-News, June 28).

Foreign Minister Irakly Menagarishvili on June 25 decried the Russian military authorities’ “rude denial of the obvious facts” in connection with the incident. Menagarishvili blamed the violation specifically on the military, apparently to allow the political authorities in Moscow to disavow the military’s action without losing face. But on the same day, Russia’s Foreign Ministry–belatedly responding to Menagarishvili’s earlier note–fully backed up the Russian military’s blanket denial of the incident (Prime-News, Itar-Tass, June 25).