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Russia sends anti-aircraft missiles to breakaway Abkhazia

Tensions between Russia and former Soviet republic Georgia are rising, after Russia's announcement that it was building up anti-aircraft missile defense in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.

S-300 missiles

Russia said the S-300s would protect the breakaway regions

Two years after fighting a short but bloody war with Georgia, Russia has announced it has sent a system of air defense missiles to the breakaway region of Abkhazia, prompting condemnation from Tbilisi and the West.

Russian air force commander-in-chief General Alexander Zelin said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that the air force had deployed a system of S-300 missiles in Abkhazia. He also said other kinds of air defense were sent to South Ossetia, the second breakaway region backed by Moscow.

"Its role will be anti-aircraft defense of the territory of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in cooperation with the air defense systems of the army," Zelin said. The missiles were aimed at the "destruction of any flying object penetrating into the covered territories, whatever aim they were flying with," he added.

Georgia, which claims both regions are integral parts of its territory despite having lost control of them in the early 1990s, was quick to condemn the action. Georgian National Security Council Secretary Eka Tkeshelashvili accused Moscow of "strengthening its image and role as an occupying country."

Man sits by destroyed building near South Ossetia

The 2008 war caused major damage and killed hundreds

"It shows... not only that Russia does not intend to withdraw its troops from Abkhazia and South Ossetia but that it is actually strengthening its military control over these territories," Tkeshelashvili told the Reuters news agency.

Old news

The United States reacted with condemnation but sought to downplay the development. US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that Russia has had S-300 missiles in Abkhazia "for the past two years."

"This is the first time any Russian official has indicated that this is the case," he said. "We have said many times that Russia must abide by its 2008 ceasefire commitments, and this is another instance in which the Russians have failed to adhere to those commitments."

The 2008 ceasefire, brokered by the European Union, ended a five-day war between Russia and Georgia that claimed hundreds of lives. The war began when Georgia sent troops to South Ossetia to reclaim the territory after repeated clashes with separatist rebels.

Russia has since recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, and has been steadily increasing military ties with both regions. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reaffirmed his support when he visited Abkhazia's capital Sukhumi on Sunday for a commemoration of the war.

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP/AP/Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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