Georgia says Russian jet shot down its drone

TBILISI (Reuters) - A Georgian unmanned reconnaissance plane downed at the weekend was shot down by a Russian air force jet, Georgia’s air force said on Monday, citing video footage of the incident.

“On April 20 a Russian Mig-29 fighter jet shot down an unarmed, unmanned air vehicle which was performing basic reconnaissance over Georgian territory,” Colonel David Nairashvili, commander of Georgia’s air force, told Reuters.

“It’s absolutely illegal for a Russian Mig-29 to be there,” he said.

A spokesman for Russia’s air force, when asked about the Georgian allegation, said: “Nonsense. What would a Russian jet fighter be doing over Georgian territory?”

The drone was brought down near Abkhazia, a Georgian region which broke away from Tbilisi’s rule in a 1990s war and is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists, Nairashvili said.

Abkhazia’s separatist administration said on Sunday its forces had shot down the drone.

Tbilisi’s pro-Western government last week accused Moscow of a de facto annexation of Abkhazia after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to establish closer ties with the region.

Georgia’s air force supplied to Reuters video footage which it said was recorded and transmitted by the drone’s on-board camera before it was shot down.

The pictures show a jet aircraft firing a missile in the direction of a drone. A few seconds later the screen goes blank. No identification markings are visible on the aircraft that fired the missile.

Nairashvili said the aircraft type meant it could only be a Russian air force jet. “The Mig-29 has a distinctive twin-tail marking. It’s a Russian aircraft. Georgia does not possess it, nor do Abkhaz separatists,” he said.

Radar records showed the aircraft took off from a base in Abkhazia and crossed into Russia after the attack, Nairashvili said.

Reporting by Margarita Antidze and Dmitry Solovyov; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Sami Aboudi