Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 25, 2010 (Reuters). Georgia accused Russia on Wednesday of deploying high-precision S-300 air defence missiles in breakaway South Ossetia in an effort to fence off the strategic South Caucasus. Russia said this month it had deployed the mobile missile system in Georgia's rebel Black Sea region of Abkhazia and other air defence systems in South Ossetia, epicentre of a five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008. It dismissed a statement by Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze on Wednesday that the S-300 had also been deployed in South Ossetia. Vashadze said Russia had "packed" its Gyumri military base in Armenia -- bordering Georgia -- with long-range S-300 missiles, capable of detecting, tracking and destroying cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and high- and low-flying aircraft.
"And be sure that they have brought the S-300 to the Tskhinvali region as well, although they have not announced it yet," Vashadze told reporters. Tskhinvali is South Ossetia's self-proclaimed capital, 116 km (72 miles) from Georgia's own capital Tbilisi. "So the Russians created a triangle in the Caucasus region, which they think they would need for possible confrontation with NATO," he added. The South Caucasus stretches from the Black Sea to the Caspian, bordering Russia, NATO-member Turkey and Iran. A spokesman at Russia's defence ministry would not comment on Vashadze's statement, but an air force official denied the system had been deployed in South Ossetia. "There are no S-300s in South Ossetia," the official said on condition of anonymity.
Deployment in Abkhazia of the missile system, code-named "Favourite" in Russia, sent a defiant signal to the West two years after Russia crushed an assault by Georgia's U.S.-trained military on South Ossetia. Russia said the systems would protect the rebel regions, which it recognised as independent states after the war, and the Russian bases it is building up. Analysts said the deployment was about control of the South Caucasus air corridor, a region criss-crossed by oil and gas pipelines bordering Iran. Russia has frozen delivery of S-300 missiles to Iran after backing new U.N. sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear programme. Washington and Israel had feared the missiles could allow Tehran to repel possible air strikes on its nuclear sites.