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  Monday, October 21, 2019
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Georgia could use force in the near future over its breakaway
Georgia could use force in the near future over its breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia as the May 21 parliamentary elections approach, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry official said on Friday.

Valery Kenyaikin, the Russian ambassador at large, said an outside enemy is needed to whip up support for the upcoming election campaign, and Abkhazia along with South Ossetia could fit the bill.

"The danger [of Georgia's military aggression] exists and could take place in the near future," the official told a news conference.

Kenyaikin said that the drone shot down over Abkhazia had a number of uses, including directing artillery fire.

Georgia claims that on Sunday a Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter from the Gudauta military base in Abkhazia, where Russian peacekeepers have been stationed since the end of a bloody conflict in the early 1990s, shot down a Georgian drone.

Abkhazia claimed responsibility for the downing of the aircraft. Russia's Air Force has dismissed Georgia's allegations.

The high-ranking diplomat reiterated that Russia would do everything possible to protect the interests of Russian citizens living in Georgia's breakaway republics saying "In any case we will not leave our citizens in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in difficulty and this should be clearly understood."

The official went further to say that Russia could use military force to protect its nationals if Tbilisi provoked military conflict in the breakaway republics.

"We will do everything possible to avert a military conflict. But if it is provoked, we will have to use military force," he said.

Sunday's downing of a Georgian surveillance drone is the latest dispute in the region, following Russian President Vladimir Putin's calls last week for closer ties with Georgia's two breakaway provinces, which has plunged relations between Moscow and Tbilisi to a new low.

The move provoked an angry response from Tbilisi with Georgia's foreign minister accusing Russia of attempting "to annex," Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from Georgia in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Georgia is desperate to retain control over the two republics.

Ex-Soviet breakaway regions have stepped up their drive for self-rule since Kosovo's declaration of independence on February 17. Georgia's Abkhazia and South Ossetia, along with Moldova's Transdnestr, have since asked Russia's parliament, the UN and other organizations to recognize their independence.


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