Tensions rise as Russia deploys extra troops into Abkhazia

RUSSIA said yesterday an extra contingent of its troops had begun arriving in Georgia’s break-away region of Abkhazia, a move Tbilisi said was an illegal act of military aggression.

Russia announced this week it was deploying hundreds of additional peacekeeping troops to the tiny sliver of land of the Black Sea to counter what it said were Georgian plans for an attack on Moscow-backed separatists in the region.

Georgia summoned Russia’s ambassador to protest against the deployment and said it had raised tensions in the region where separatists fought a war against Georgian forces in the 1990s.

Russia’s defence ministry said the contingent would remain within the 3,000 limit allowed under a 1994 United Nations-brokered ceasefire agreement.

Russian state television broadcast footage of a column of Russian army trucks and armoured vehicles driving through Sukhumi, Abkhazia’s main city.

“We are extremely concerned with Russia’s decision to increase its military presence in Abkhazia,” David Bakradze, a Georgian presidential special envoy, told journalists in Tbilisi.

“Under international law, the deployment of any military force without the consent of the sovereign country is clearly defined as an act of aggression. Therefore, what we face today is an act of Russian military aggression in Abkhazia.”

A semi-tropical strip of land on the Black Sea coast, Abkhazia used to be the playground of the Soviet elite.

It was left devastated by the fighting between separatist forces and Georgian troops during the 1990s.

It is recognised internationally as part of Georgia but has run its own affairs, with support from neighbouring Russia, since the fighting ended.

Ex-Soviet Georgia, which has angered Moscow by seeking NATO membership and is a vital energy transit route, says the Russian peacekeepers side with the separatists and is lobbying for them to be replaced with a multinational force.

It has denied any plans to attack Abkhazia.


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