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Friday, October 20, 2006

Russian Navy Violating Georgian Waters, Impeding Shipping: Minister

AFP: A senior Georgian defense official accused the Russian navy Oct. 18 of violating Georgian territorial waters and impeding the arrival of Turkish trading ships to the ex-Soviet republic.

Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kudava said ships from Russia’s Black Sea fleet had moved into Georgian waters under the pretext of naval exercises.

”Russian ships are occupying a very large territory. They are in Georgian territorial waters and are impeding the movement of ships from Turkey,” Kudava told AFP.

He said the ships moved into Georgia’s Black Sea coastal waters about a week ago for an apparent military exercise but said Georgian officials were “not sure if the exercise has begun yet.”

”Georgia sees this move as a provocation and an integral part of the economic blockade” Russia launched against Georgia last month amid a spying row, Kudava said in televised remarks earlier.

”These exercises are hindering the entry of ships from Turkey into Georgia,” said Kudava.

He did not specify the number of Russian vessels involved or precisely how they were hindering Turkish vessels.

A spokesman for Russia’s navy contacted by AFP said the navy was not ready to comment but might respond later.

The accusation by Georgia comes against the background of a full-blown diplomatic crisis in which Russia has imposed sweeping sanctions on this country strategically located in the southern Caucasus.

The measures came after Georgia, which has angered Russia by moving closer to the west, last month arrested four Russian officers on charges of spying on Georgia’s military, releasing them five days later.

Among the measures announced by Russia, the transport ministry said Georgian ships would be forbidden from entering Russia’s Black Sea ports and checks would be carried out on Georgian shipping.

Russia has strongly opposed the pro-Western course taken by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and particular his stated desire to take his country into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
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