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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Georgia Closes Airspace to Russian Military Planes

Reuters: Georgia has closed its airspace to Russian military aircraft, officials said Jan. 30, adding a new irritant to relations still raw from a dispute over gas supplies.

Georgian air traffic controllers said Russia owed $1 million in unpaid fees for their services.

Tbilisi and Moscow have been at odds since a 2003 "Rose Revolution" brought to power President Mikhail Saakashvili who wants to align his ex-Soviet country more closely with the West.

A week ago Saakashvili said Russia deliberately blew up a pipeline supplying natural gas to Georgia to apply political pressure on Tbilisi. Moscow said the claim was "hysterical".

"Georgia�s airspace is closed to Russian military planes for the third day because of debt accumulated by the Russian side for (our) services," said a spokeswoman for the Georgian air traffic control department.

"It�s not a political, but a purely economic decision. We�ll open the airspace when the debt is repaid."

Georgia was thrown into an energy crisis last week after unexplained explosions on the gas pipeline and a major electricity line in Russia cut gas and electricity supplies to Georgia during the coldest winter in a decade.

Russian gas started to flow to Georgia again on Sunday following repairs.

Russia�s military mainly uses Georgian airspace to reach an airbase it rents in neighboring Armenia.

Russia has two military bases in Georgia and one in Armenia. Moscow is to close its bases in Georgia by the end of 2008 under a deal brokered last year by the two countries.
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