A Wayward Missile

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

THE U.N. Security Council will get a briefing tomorrow on what appears to have been a provocative move against the Republic of Georgia, a small, young democracy on the Black Sea. As we noted last week, the likely culprit is Russia, Georgia's far larger former master to the north and a permanent member of the Security Council. That might make Russia less than eager for a full vetting. Even so, the other nations on the international panel must push for a credible investigation and, eventually, attempt to hold accountable whomever the evidence implicates.

Late last Monday night, a jet released a missile some 30 miles from Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. The weapon landed harmlessly next to a small village, but it did not have to explode to warrant Georgian outrage. The Georgian government maintains that the jet came from the north, and a preliminary document produced by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe seems to confirm this. The Georgians say that the recovered missile is an anti-radar weapon built for use with the Russian-made SU-24 aircraft, leading to speculation that the jet was on its way to scout or even fire upon a nearby Georgian radar post. Regardless of intent, any unprovoked foreign incursion into Georgian airspace, particularly with such military technology, is indefensible and deserves international censure.

Over the weekend, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov repeated his country's line so far, that the attack was little more than a "theatrical presentation" orchestrated by the Georgians. Russia has produced no credible evidence to back up this far-fetched theory, which, along with other Kremlin representations, only fuels suspicions of Russian involvement.

Yet Russia has previously avoided international rebuke for its dealings with Georgia. Most notably, a recent U.N. report stopped short of implicating Russia in a March helicopter attack despite a great deal of evidence -- probably because the Russians had to approve the report's conclusions. This time around, neither Georgia nor Russia should have control over any multilateral investigation.

An international team is at work in Georgia. The Security Council should support the independent inquiry and commit to reviewing and responding to the facts as they emerge. Georgia has asked for an emergency session to discuss the matter. The United States and the European Union should push the Security Council to accept the request. After all, what is the United Nations for if not to investigate possible cases of international aggression?


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