ISTANBUL - TDN with wire dispatches
Russian military jets flew over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia this week in order to prevent imminent "bloodshed," the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting tiny Caucasus country, urged Russia to help resolve tension in Georgia's rebel regions rather than "contributing to it".
"The need arose to take urgent and effective measures to prevent bloodshed and to keep the situation peaceful," the Russian ministry said in a statement.
"To determine the circumstances, Russian air force planes made a short flight over the territory of South Ossetia," as reported by Agence France-Presse.
The statement from Moscow was issued a day after Russia and Georgia traded accusations about military flights over South Ossetia, one of two separatist provinces in Georgia.
On Wednesday Georgia accused Russia of sending fighter jets into its airspace to undermine a visit by U.S. Secretary of State, who warned Moscow to respect the sovereignty of its pro-Western neighbor.
A U.S. official traveling with Rice to Tbilisi said a simmering confrontation between Georgia and Russia over two breakaway regions could lead to a catastrophe, and that Moscow should realist it is no longer Georgia's imperial master.
The Russian statement marked an unusual admission from Russia that it had sent military aircraft over a separatist region in Georgia. Past Georgian accusations of Russian military over flights have been denied by Moscow.
A flight ban has been in place in South Ossetia for years as part of ceasefire arrangements in the conflict zone.
"As subsequent events showed, this step cooled hotheads in Tbilisi and prevented the situation from evolving through use of force, which had become highly likely," the Russian statement said.
Russia said it had received information indicating that Georgian troops were preparing a military operation in South Ossetia to free four Georgian soldiers arrested Tuesday by authorities in the breakaway province.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, urged Russia yesterday to help resolve tension in Georgia's rebel regions rather than "contributing to it".
Rice was in Tbilisi in a show of support for Georgia, an ex-Soviet state that wants to join NATO and is at the center of a tussle for influence between the United States and Russia in the strategic south Caucasus.
"It (Russia) needs to be a part of resolving the problem and solving the problem and not contributing to it," Rice said. "I have said it to the Russians publicly. I have said it privately," according to Reuters.
"The violence needs to stop and whoever is perpetrating it, and I have mentioned this to the president, there should not be violence," she told a joint news conference with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Saakashvili said Russian fighter jets had come close to the Georgian capital late on Tuesday. "Maybe they wanted to salute Secretary Rice. I don't know ... This is a very worrisome development."
Saakashvili said Russia's behaviour was a reaction to NATO expansion and an increasing U.S. presence in the region.
"Looks like some people did not notice that the Cold War is over," he said. "The main point is that Russia ...no longer acknowledges the jurisdiction of Georgia towards an essential part of its territory."
In the worst violence in months, a bomb in a cafe in Abkhazia killed four people on Sunday and separatists in South Ossetia said two people were killed last week in a heavy exchange of fire with Georgian forces.Russia said there was strong evidence Georgia's government was behind the violence, though Tbilisi denied that.