|Russian military experts have concluded:
The group of military experts from the Russian Ministry of Defense specializing in radars and munitions and led by chief-of-staff of the Russian air force, Lt. Gen. Igor Khvorov, convened a news conference at the Russian embassy compound in Tbilisi on August 17. The Russian ambassador, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, and Russian foreign ministry special envoy Valery Kenyakin, who was in the Russian delegation, were also present.
Ambassador Kovalenko stressed at the very beginning of the news conference that “high-profile and highly skilled professionals” had been sent to Georgia to probe into the evidence provided by the Georgian side.
Lt. Gen. Khvorov briefed journalists on conclusions drawn from the air traffic records, while Pavel Akulenok, an engineer specializing in air force munitions, dealt with the missile fragments.
‘Not a Russian Jet’
Lt. Gen. Khvorov said that for the Russian side “everything was clear even before coming to Tbilisi” but “accusations voiced against Russia were very serious, so it required a serious investigation as well.”
At the news conference Khvorov showed a daily report by a Russian military air controller, which purportedly proves that no military plane crossed the Georgian frontier on the day in question.
“Only some commercial planes crossed the Russo-Georgian border on August 6, including one en-route to Yerevan, and all of them were agreed between the two sides, as is the normal procedure,” Khvorov said.
The air traffic records provided by the Georgian side in support of claims of an overflight, he said, had “immediately raised question marks.”
Khvorov pointed out that the records were not in accordance with a report conducted by the Joint Peacekeeping Forces in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
He said the Georgian radar showed a plane moving in a straight line typical of commercial planes, while the peacekeepers had reported, what Khvorov described as “quite difficult maneuvers.” “But this was not seen on the radar records provided by the Georgian side,” he added.
He said this contradiction wasn't the only factor in casting doubt on the authenticity of the air traffic records. Radar records provided by the Russian side, he said, clearly showed passenger planes were in the area concerned at that time. The Georgian records only showed, what Khvorov termed, the so-called intruder aircraft. “We can make only one conclusion based on this information," he said. "No aircraft crossed the Georgian border from the Russian Federation.”
This information was enough to establish Russian non-involvement, Khvorov said, but the group was determined to explore all avenues of inquiry. “We wanted to further cooperate with Georgia and to investigate evidence related to the rocket crash site and rocket fragments,” he said.
Things became even more complicated and confusing, he said, when his team examined the site and the rocket fragments.
‘Old, Rusted Rocket’
The Russian experts said that they could find nothing of significance at the incident site at the village of Tsitelubani as “the most interested evidence” – the rocket crater – had already been filled in.
Lt. Gen. Khvorov said as well as this, other “crucial evidence had also been destroyed by the Georgian side.” “We had the impression that someone did not want us to find the truth,” he added.
Two-thirds of rocket fragments were missing, Khvorov said, “even though we were told that all the fragments had been preserved”
“Even the rocket serial number has been destroyed,” he said. “We thoroughly searched for it among the rocket fragments, but failed to find it.”
He said that the Georgian side had also destroyed the rocket detonator. It was necessary to examine it, he said, to understand why the rocket had failed to explode. The only conclusion that could be drawn, he said, was that the rocket had never actually been fired.
Speaking with reporters at the incident site earlier on August 17, Lt. Gen. Khvorov suggested that the incident had been staged. Rocket debris found at the site, he claimed, had been brought from elsewhere.
Pavel Akulenok, an engineer specializing in air force munitions, said the most important, central part of the rocket, where the engine is located and serial numbers indicated had also been destroyed.
He said that the Georgian side had only shown a photo of a fragment with a serial number. “You know how easy it is to manipulate a photo; you can impose any number on a photo,” Akulenok said.
He said that the group, having carefully examined the rocket fragments available at the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, believed that not all the fragments were those of a Raduga Kh-58 anti-radar tactically guided missile (the NATO classification is AS11 Kilter).
The Russian experts suggested that there were fragments from several different rockets, as opposed to a single one.
“One part of the rocket was separated from the rocket’s central part. When I asked how these two parts were separated, the Georgian investigators responded that apparently they had been separated when the rocket landed,” Akulenok said. “But it was obvious to me that the part was simply cut with a metal cutter saw.”
The group found signs of corrosion on that fragment, he said, “which makes us think that it did not belong to the same rocket." "It was the fragment of some other, old, rusted rocket,” he said.
He showed a photo (which was provided by the Georgian investigators) depicting one of the fragments of the rocket.
“You can see here that the inscription on it is not in Cyrillic, but instead in some foreign script,” Akulenok said. “Georgia said it was a Russian rocket produced sometime in 1991-92. I want to tell you that Russian law prohibits the use of foreign components in Russian aviation rockets.”
He also noted that the wings on this type of rocket are made of titanium. “Fragments said to be those of the rocket wings were not made of titanium; that is for sure,” Akulenok added.
Lt. Gen. Khvorov said that Kh-58 type anti-radar rockets were available during Soviet times at two air bases in Georgia. In addition, he said, there was a warehouse in Georgia where this type of missile was stored before 1992.
“You know those were troubled times and I don't rule out that the rocket was from that very same warehouse,” Khvorov said.
Politically Motivated Report
Speaking at the news conference, Russian foreign ministry special envoy Valery Kenyakin said that the Russian military experts had “destroyed Georgia’s version of events” surrounding the August 6 incident.
He said that Russia was ready to continue cooperation to further investigate the case and “help to find those forces which are not fully controlled by the central authorities and who are capable of masterminding this kind of provocation.”
Kenyakin also rubbished a report by the International Experts Group (IEG), saying it was politically-motivated.
The IEG was made up of eight experts from Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden and the United States. Its report said that an aircraft had come from the Russian side and had dropped a Kh-58 anti-radar missile deep into Georgian territory.
“It seems that they are not experts at all,” Kenyakin said. “They are more politicians rather than experts and their report is highly politicised”
The IEG report, he said, was based on one-sided information provided by the Georgian authorities.
“If they were really an independent group they would have contacted the Russian side as well,” Kenyakin said.
In contrast to the Russian rejection of Tbilisi's version of events, the U.S. embassy in Tbilisi, in a statement issued on August 17, describes the incident as an "incursion into Georgian airspace of a military aircraft from Russian airspace."
The comments came as part of the U.S. embassy's evaluation of the IEG report. The embassy categorized the report as both “important” and “credible.”
Georgia has downplayed the importance of the Russian investigation. Batu Kutelia, Georgia’s deputy defense minister, said two other probes - one by the Georgian side and a more important one by the International Group of Experts - had already dealt with the issue, confirming that the jet had come from Russia and had dropped a bomb deep into Georgia’s territory.
“Hence, we don’t see the need for further consultation with the Russian side over this issue,” Kutelia said. “Georgia now expects the international community to give an appropriate political assessment and response to the violation of Georgia’s airspace and the bombardment of its sovereign territory.”