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Georgia Claims 27 Russian Jets Sent to Abkhaz Base

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze has accused Russia of sending 27 fighter planes to a former Soviet airbase in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia.

Vashadze told reporters in Tbilisi Friday the planes are on the ground at the airfield near Gudauta and called the deployment a flagrant violation of a 1999 agreement on conventional forces in Europe.

But Russia's Interfax news agency says a military official in Moscow has denied Vashadze's claims, saying "no Russian military airplanes have been stationed on [Abkhaz] territory." An Abkhaz official also denied the claim but indicated that Russian jets could be based there in the future.

In the next few months, the Abkhaz separatist leadership expects to sign a deal with Russia allowing it to build two new military bases in Abkhazia and station Russian troops there.

The U.S., NATO and the European Union have all expressed deep concerns over Moscow's plans to establish bases in Abkhazia as well as separatist South Ossetia.

The State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said Friday that Russia's plans would violate Georgia's sovereignty to which Moscow repeatedly committed itself in numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions. NATO and the EU have also expressed similar concerns.

Observers say the deployment of Russian forces into the separatist regions would likely terminate Georgian efforts to restore its territorial integrity and would change the balance of power in the region.

Russian forces swept into Georgia in August after Georgian troops sought to recapture South Ossetia. The Russians withdrew their troops from most of Georgia, but maintain a total of about 7,600 in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which they have recognized as independent countries.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.