UN Says Russia Downed Georgia Drone

C.J. Chivers
May 26, 2008

MOSCOW — United Nations investigators who examined the downing of a unmanned Georgian reconnaissance aircraft in April have concluded that the drone was struck by a missile fired from a Russian fighter plane, according to an advance copy of their report obtained on Monday.

The report reads as a sharp refutation of Russia’s claims that it was not involved in the one-sided dogfight on April 20, when the Georgian drone made an unusual video recording of its own destruction in the sky over Abkhazia, the separatist region in northwestern Georgia that receives Russian support.

Russia has served as a regional peacekeeper since Georgian and Abkhaz forces entered an uneasy cease-fire in the 1990s, and the Russian military has at least 2,500 soldiers on the ground under a mandate approved by the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The United Nations report noted that the use of force by any third party, such as a fighter plane scrambled from Russia, is “fundamentally inconsistent” with Russia’s role as a peacekeeper and “undercuts the cease-fire and separation of forces regime.” It also raised “possible considerations under international law.”

Moreover, the report suggested a degree of military recklessness that had not previously been reported, noting that the fighter plane’s “interception took place very close to, or even inside an international airway, at a time where (sic) civilian aircraft were flying.”

The report also criticized the Georgian government, saying that Georgia’s use of reconnaissance drones over Abkhazia violates the separation of forces agreement and that “this kind of military intelligence-gathering is bound to be interpreted by the Abkhaz side as a precursor to a military operation, particularly in a period of tense relations between the two sides.”

The United Nations declined to discuss the contents or conclusion of the report, which is expected to be made public later today.