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Reuters AlertNet 8/17/07

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In Missile-Gate, Russia Tells Its Side of the Story, Saying Georgia Made It Up, and Kodori Too

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 21 -- Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday ridiculed Georgia's contention that a Russian military aircraft dropped a missile in Georgia on August 6. He asked rhetorically, Where is the rest of the missile? Why would Russia have flown it 75 kilometers into Georgia, if the missile has a range of 250 kilometers? Why didn't the missile explode? There are all questions that will be asked of the Georgian mission to the UN, which scheduled its own press conference for Wednesday morning.

            After a lengthy presentation by Amb. Churkin, Inner City Press asked him, "Are you in essence saying that Georgia made it up?"

            "Yes," Churkin answered deadpan.

            "And are you saying the same of the Kodori incident in March?"

            "Yes," Churkin said again, after a brief pause. The latter incident, the UN has been involved in investigating. These are explosive charges. Video here, from Minute 24:46.

            Inner City Press asked Amb. Churkin about a scenario in which Russia military operations in the Astrakhan region may have led to an erroneous over-flight of Georgia and dropping of the missile.

            "Astrakhan is quite a bit away," Churkin answered. "It is not something supported by our military."

Amb. Vitaly Churkin, Aug. 21, 2007

            The scenario Inner City Press asked about is described in the publication Defense and Security, translating Mikhail Vignansky's piece in Vremya Novostei of August 17, 2007--

Official Tbilisi believes there must be a connection between the missile incident and the exercise the Russian army is running on Ashuluk in the Astrakhan region. The government doesn't rule out the possibility that Russian pilots "got lost" and nods at the report posted on the web site of the Russian Defense Ministry concerning SU-24 flights in the course of the exercise. Bezhuashvili mentioned that the Russian expert group includes "the general" who denied that Russia was running military exercises (the matter concerns Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov, Russian Air Force Chief-of-Staff). "All these statements were a bunch of lies because the Defense Ministry of Russia itself published information on the exercise and types of aircraft and weapons used in it," Bezhuashvili said.

            A Russian official asked about this on Tuesday was dismissive, and urged believe in Amb. Churkin. Churkin, at a Security Council stakeout interview last week and in Tuesday's news conference, placed weight on the visit to Tblisi by General Khvorov. But did he deny the military operations in Astrakhan? If Georgia does not cancel its press conference on Wednesday -- having already cancelled two of three press conferences it announced in this topic -- their reply will be reported and analyzed on this site. Developing.

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Clck here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army.  Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540