An aircraft crashed in the Kodori Gorge on August 22, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba and Chief-of-Staff of the breakaway region's armed forces Anatoly Zaitsev have claimed.
The announcement comes after the Georgian Interior Ministry had confirmed its forces fired “warning shots” at an aircraft on August 22 after a series of violations of Georgian airspace over upper Kodori Gorge by Russia. A group from the Interior Ministry has been sent to Kodori to investigate whether a plane was downed or not.
Zaitsev, speaking with reporters in Sokhumi, however, said it was neither a Russian nor Georgian aircraft.
“It presumably was an American reconnaissance plane,” Russian Interfax news agency and Russian news website Newsru.com quoted Zaitsev as saying on August 25.
Later, however, Zaitsev denied saying that it was a U.S. aircraft.
Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergey Shamba told Reuters and RIA Novosti news agency it was a Georgian, not a U.S., plane.
The U.S. embassy in Tbilisi has not commented on the matter.
Zaitsev also said he himself had witnessed an aircraft flying from the Black Sea into Abkhaz airspace.
“It was losing altitude; a smoke trail was also seen,” Zaitsev said. “Our observation post in [lower] Kodori Gorge also observed an overflight; then it also observed a glow steam.”
Shamba also said that Abkhaz personnel at the observation post had seen the aircraft, "then they observed a blast and heard an explosion."
Abkhaz leader Sergey Bagapsh said later on August 25 that the Abkhaz side, after combing lower Kodori Gorge, had found no wreakage.
News about the incident first broke late on August 24 when Tbilisi-based Rustavi 2 TV reported that a Russian aircraft had been shot down by Georgian forces over upper Kodori Gorge.
No wreakage has been found, because of the remoteness of the the gorge, reports said. Witnesses, however, told Rustavi 2 TV via phone that they had seen black smoke coming from the crash site.
The aircraft type was unknown too. Abkhaz forces were holding large scale military maneuvers, involving at least two army helicopters and two aircraft, near Kodori Gorge at the time.
The Georgian Interior Ministry made an official statement on August 25, but it failed to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the reports of the allegedly downed unidentified aircraft.
“On August 22, when Georgian airspace was violated, we fired warning shots; the overflight ceased then,” Shota Khizanishvili, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said. “We call on Russia and the international community to jointly investigate the violation of Georgian airspace.”
He said that similar violations of the airspace over upper Kodori Gorge had occurred on August 20 and on August 21 as well. He did not give further details.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry also said that Interior Ministry personnel had responded to the airspace violations in accordance “to established procedure and then fired warning shots.”
Aleksander Drobishevsky, an aide to the commander of the Russian air force, has dismissed the reports of violations of Georgian airspace as “yet another provocation.”