Georgian hardliners trying to stir up trouble with Russia are to blame for "fabricating" reports that a Russian jet fired a radar-seeking missile into Georgia earlier this month, Russia's UN ambassador says.
"The missile incident near the Georgian village of Tsitelubani was a deliberate provocation organised and carried out by those in Georgia who are interested in aggravating relations between Russia and Georgia," Vitaly Churkin said, summarising the results of a Russian fact-finding mission to Georgia.
"This is a case of flagrant distortion of the facts, aimed at triggering a political tsunami."
The Georgian claim, backed by a group of Western experts, is that two Russian Su-24 fighter-bombers entered Georgian airspace on Aug. 6 and fired a Soviet-era KH-58 missile, designed to destroy radar stations, which failed to explode.
The missile struck less than five kilometres from a key Georgian air defence radar installation, and its remains have been put on display by the Georgian military.
Georgia insists the attack is part of a pattern of Russian incursions into its territory, including an alleged March 11 assault by Russian helicopter gunships against Georgians in the disputed Kodori Gorge, which lies between Georgia and the Russian-backed breakaway statelet of Abkhazia.
Georgia argues that the missile attack was an "unprecedented act of aggression" by Moscow against a tiny post-Soviet neighbour that has defied it by seeking better relations with NATO and the West.
Russia has so far blocked Georgian requests for the UN Security Council to issue a resolution on the incident.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have grown increasingly tense over Moscow's support — including the protection of Russian peacekeeping troops — for Abkhazia and another rebel republic, South Ossetia.
Churkin said that fragments of the Russian missile shown by Georgia lack serial numbers or other clear identifying marks, and that one piece has "a marking in English", which would be impossible if the weapon were Russian.
The Russian military has suggested that a Georgian Su-25 —which closely resembles the Su-24 — probably fired the missile, which could have been drawn from old Soviet-era stockpiles.
Modern Russian equipment is much better than the old missile parts being displayed by Georgia in this incident, Churkin said. "If Russian aircraft had wanted to attack Georgian radar they would not have to cross the border," he added.
But an international team, including experts from Poland, Estonia and Britain, found that Georgian radar records clearly show the attacking aircraft coming from and returning to Russian territory on August 6.