Russia disclosed yesterday it had deployed advanced air-defense technology to one of the territories that has broken off from Georgia, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, July 30).
The Georgian Foreign Ministry quickly condemned the deployment of the S-300 interceptors to Abkhazia as an “extremely dangerous and provocative step that presents a threat not only to the Black Sea region but to European security as a whole.”
Russia and Georgia went to war briefly in summer 2008 following an attempt by Tbilisi to regain control of another separatist region, South Ossetia. Moscow has since recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and has boosted military involvement with the two breakaway zones, which have permitted Russia to erect military installations on their land.
Russian air force commander Gen. Alexander Zelin said the deployment was meant to safeguard Abkhazia’s skies and ensure the protection of the republic, according to Russian news media. Zelin said similar but distinct technology had been installed in South Ossetia (Lynn Berry, Associated Press/Google News, Aug. 11).
Zelin said the Abkhazia interceptors would also safeguard Russian armed forces installations in the area, the New York Times reported (Michael Schwirtz, New York Times, Aug. 11).
“The task of this air-defense system is not only to cover the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia but also to avert violations of their state borders in the air and destroy any vehicle illegally penetrating their air space, whatever the goal of its mission,” the general said, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Ashley Creek, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Aug. 11).
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The exact model of the S-300 sent to Abkhazia was not disclosed, AP reported. Sophisticated models have the ability to target aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles at distances of more than 90 miles.
Georgian government minister Temur Yakobashvili said the S-300 deployment contravened the 2008 Russian-Georgian cease-fire pact. He said the interceptors were Russia’s response to moves by NATO and the United States, “which intend to place their own missile defense system in Eastern Europe” (see GSN, Aug. 2; Berry, Associated Press).
Military analyst Alexander Golts in Moscow said the deployment of the interceptors did not make much sense, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported.
“The most long-range set of missiles that we have is the S-300, which tracks more than 10 targets and has a range of 800 to 900 kilometers,” Golts said. “This is a classic illustration of shooting sparrows with a cannon. And you know, I’m really not sure that Georgia has 10 planes (in its air force)” (Creek, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).