Russia Denies Attacking Georgia
MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia’s Defense Ministry denied accusations Thursday that Russian helicopters attacked Georgian territory, the Interfax news agency reported.
Georgian officials said that three Russian helicopters had dropped anti-personnel mines Wednesday near the village of Shatili, in northern Georgia, near the border with breakaway Chechnya.
No casualties were reported, but Georgia’s Foreign Ministry angrily demanded an explanation from Russia.
Russian forces have been battling Chechen militants since August, and part of the campaign involves blocking potential escape routes of the Chechen fighters. Georgia, which is not directly involved in the conflict, is the only foreign country that borders Chechnya.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that he was aware of a ``violation of the border,″ but the Russian government issued a statement later in the day denying that any bombs had fallen on Georgian territory.
In Thursday’s statement, the Defense Ministry said that three Russian helicopters had conducted reconnaissance Wednesday near the Georgian border, but inside Russian territory. It said that one of the helicopters had come under fire from an anti-aircraft system at a Chechen rebel emplacement 6 miles from the border, Interfax reported.
However, Mikhail Margelov, the head of the Russian information center handling public relations on the Chechen war, told Echo of Moscow radio later Thursday that the three helicopters had made pinpoint strikes on Chechen rebel bases.
The ministry said that reports of the alleged bombing of Georgian territory were disinformation attempts intended to mar Russian-Georgian ties.
Russian media and some officials have accused Georgia of allowing militants, including foreign mercenaries, to cross the border into Chechnya. Georgia has hotly denied the allegations.