MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia blamed Georgia on Saturday for an explosion that killed Russian soldiers in Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia.
A senior Russian peacekeeping officer was among seven soldiers killed on Friday when a car blew up at the Russian peacekeepers’ base in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, the Russian military said.
Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted South Ossetia’s Interior Ministry as saying a total of 11 people had been killed, including civilians. The RIA agency quoted a military spokesman as saying Colonel Ivan Petrik, the Russian peacekeepers’ chief of staff, had been killed in his office.
Georgia sent troops and tanks in August to assert control of the pro-Russian separatist region, but was routed by Russian forces, which went on to occupy parts of the Georgian heartland.
Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office, told Itar-Tass news agency that the office had “all grounds to believe that the explosion in Tskhinvali was arranged by the secret services of Georgia and is aimed at Russian peacekeepers to destabilize the situation.”
Russia’s RIA news agency quoted the commander of Russia’s forces in Georgia, Major-General Marat Kulakhmetov, as saying they had stopped two cars on Friday in the village of Ditsa, in a Russian-controlled buffer zone around South Ossetia, and escorted them to Tskhinvali.
As they were being searched, a bomb went off.
Georgia denied the charges, saying it would have had to find Ossetians to take the car into the area under Russian control.
“I don’t understand the logic. How could the Georgian secret service plan that the Ossetians would steal the car and that the Russians would take it to their base. Are we geniuses or what?” Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
“The Georgians did not take any car to Ossetian territory or drive it to the Russian base.”
Utiashvili suggested the Russians were trying to delay their withdrawal from the buffer zone, due to be complete by October 10 under a French-mediated ceasefire agreement.
Unarmed EU monitors have entered the buffer zone to monitor the agreement. A spokesman for the mission said they were patrolling as normal on Saturday.
Reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Matt Robinson; Editing by Kevin Liffey