Russia warns Georgia over peacekeepers

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia warned on Thursday it might have to use force against Georgia if Russian peacekeepers were attacked again in its southern neighbor.

General Lieutenant Alexander Burutin, first deputy of the military general staff, told reporters in Moscow that peacekeeping troops in Georgia showed “considerable restraint” when they were detained earlier this week.

“In the future we cannot guarantee that our servicemen will act in this patient way. Their patience is not limitless. The consequences will be grave and there could be bloodshed. Responsibility for that will be entirely on the Georgian side,” Burutin said.

Georgian police on Tuesday detained a group of Russian soldiers who they said were transporting weapons without permission. They later released them.

Russia has had peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia since the end of a separatist war in the 1990s, and the region is a source of friction between the two countries.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday warned his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili in a telephone conversation that Moscow would not stand for “provocations” against its peacekeepers.

In Tbilisi, Georgia’s foreign ministry dismissed the Russian comments.

Grigol Vashadze, Georgia’s deputy foreign minister, told a Georgian television station: “We permanently hear threats of bloodshed and military confrontation. We aren’t afraid.”

Moscow alleges Tbilisi has been preparing to attack Abkhazia, but Georgia’s pro-Western government, which has been promised eventual NATO membership, says it has no plans, and accuses Moscow of trying to annex the region.

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