Russian warplanes allegedly attacked a village deep inside the former Soviet republic of Georgia on Tuesday, firing at least one missile and committing an unprecedented "act of aggression", Georgian officials said.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have been tense due to Moscow's support for two breakaway statelets on Georgian territory. Tuesday's alleged assault by two Russian fighter planes occurred at the village of Tsitelubani, about 65 kilometre m from the capital of Tbilisi, and close to the rebel republic of South Ossetia.
"Our radars show that these jets flew from Russia and then flew back in the same direction that they had come from," Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told journalists.
"I describe this as an act of aggression carried out by planes flown from the territory of another state," he said.
The attackers fired at least one air-to-surface missile, which failed to detonate.
"If it had exploded it would have been a disaster," Merabishvili said. Russian officials denied the claim.
"Russian air force jets have performed no flights in that area and in no way could violate the airspace of the neighboring state," the official RIA-Novosti agency quoted military spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky, as saying
Russia has been accused of assisting rebels in South Ossetia and another separatist republic, Abkhazia, but never before of directly attacking Georgian territory.
Experts say that hard-liners in Georgia, or even in Moscow, could be trying to manufacture an "incident" aimed at triggering a war to finally settle the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Georgian nationalists around President Mikhael Saakashvili want Georgia's US-trained army to invade the two rebel states and take them back under central control.