The headquarters of the Abkhaz government-in-
The Tbilisi-controlled upper Kodori Gorge in breakaway Abkhazia was shelled late on March 11, damaging a local administrative building. No one was injured. Tbilisi has claimed that the area came under fire from Russian army helicopters and artillery from Abkhaz-controlled territory. Both Moscow and Sokhumi have denied the accusations.
A quadripartite Joint Fact-Finding Group (JFFG) was convened to investigate the incident. The JFFG, headed by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, also involved representatives of Russian peacekeepers, and both the Georgian and Abkhaz sides. Conclusions reached had to reflect the views of all four members, which eventually led to divergent conclusions on a number of issues relating to the March 11 attack.
The report itself says that working through consensus “made it difficult to agree on several matters, especially in those areas where there was no hard evidence.”
The 25-page report says that an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) – either an AT-6 SHURM or AT-9 ATAKA - hit the administrative building in the village of Chkhalta.
The report does not directly claim that the ATGM was fired from a helicopter, but it rules out the possibility that it was launched from the ground.
“The missile appears to have entered the building from a relatively high angle (likely precluding the use of an actual armored vehicle) and was seemingly very accurate (hitting an office space window in the administrative building.) Likewise, it would be technically very difficult to accurately fire a SHTURM or ATAKA from an improvised ground platform. Additionally, the expert provided by the Russian Federation stated that the ATAKA cannot be fired from a ground or improvised platform,” the report reads.
According to the report, witnesses stated that from approximately 9:10 pm until approximately 10:50 pm one or more helicopters operated in the upper Kodori Gorge.
“The spent ATGM (SHTURM or ATAKA), typically but not exclusively a helicopter delivered missile, discovered at Chkhalta also indicates the presence of helicopters during the rocket firing incident,” the report reads. However, it adds, “unfortunately no further evidence positively and conclusively denies or affirms the presence of helicopters during the incident.”
The report says that while the accuracy of witnesses’ statements regarding helicopter activities varies, “there is a considerable degree of corroboration on the following aspects,” which include: the appearance of more than one helicopter in the upper Kodori Gorge, which remained there for the total duration of the incident.
Based on a detailed analysis of specially prepared meteorological reports and air traffic control records made available by the Georgian authorities, the report finds that “helicopters used multiple approaches from the north” to reach the upper Kodori Gorge.
A radar report, provided by the Georgian side, which covers the entire territory of Abkhazia immediately south of Kodori Gorge (but not the northern part which borders Russia), indicates no flight at all during the entire period from these areas concerned – only commercial flights along the international flight corridors.
“It is, therefore, concluded that no Abkhaz or CIS PKF helicopter took off from these areas towards the upper Kodori valley before and during the incident,” the report says.
Russia was also requested to provide radar records, but it responded that “since there were no Russian Air Force flights on 11-12 March in the mentioned zone, there are no recordings of such flights.”
The report reveals that the Abkhaz and Russian sides alleged during the investigation that a Georgian helicopter, which crashed overnight on March 12 in central Georgia, could have been involved in the attack.
Two Georgian MI-24 helicopters, in Tbilisi for repair, were ordered to fly back to Senaki base in western Georgia after the attack on Kodori Gorge. Confronting bad weather and poor visibility immediately after take-off, the pilots decided to turn back. One of the helicopters actually crashed, due to pilot error, according to official Georgian accounts.
According to the report, the air traffic control record, provided by Georgian authorities, proved that the Georgian MI-24s could not have been involved in the Kodori attack.