The Russian drone and helicopter came whizzing in from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively, and hovered over nearby Georgian police posts and villages, the foreign ministry reported. Tbilisi described the act as another violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and the 2008 ceasefire agreement with Russia.
In a March 7 TV appearance, though, Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili tried to allay mounting fears over Russian pressure; even though he himself has repeatedly told the public to expect such tactics as Georgia prepares to sign an association agreement and free-trade deal with the European Union this year.
“I’d like to ask everyone… not to overstate the threats expected from Russia,” Garibashvili said in an interview with Georgian Public Television. “We know what these threats are, but I have heard . . . exaggerated forecasts and I don’t think it is right. We don’t have to stress people too much.”
With breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia pretty much under Russian control already, Moscow does not need to pull a Crimea in Georgia, the argument goes. Unlike in Ukraine, where an EU association agreement is now back on the table, Russia provides no energy-and-trade lifeline here. So, what can Moscow do in Georgia, really? asked Garibashvili.
Perhaps the Russian aircraft were also looking for answers to this question.
The foreign ministry called on the (by now, much taxed) international community to keep their eyes peeled on Georgia to prevent Russia from escalating tensions. Defense Minister Irakli Alasania said that Georgian troops are in shape to respond to any security challenges, and vowed that Georgia will not let itself dragged into a provocation.
This is not the first time that Tbilisi has claimed that the Russia military has crept into undisputed parts of Georgia, but the Crimean crisis and the upcoming EU deals add to the concerns.