TBILISI, GEORGIA — Shots were fired Sunday as a motorcade carrying the presidents of Georgia and Poland approached a checkpoint near the breakaway province of South Ossetia, Georgian officials said.
No one was hurt, and details of the incident were disputed even among Georgian officials. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the shots were fired as the motorcade approached a Russian military checkpoint near the town of Akhalgori in South Ossetia. But lawmaker Marika Verulashvili said the incident happened as the motorcade approached a Georgian police checkpoint near the province.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili blamed Russian troops in South Ossetia.
"Frankly, I didn't expect the Russians to open fire," he said at a news conference with Polish President Lech Kaczynski. "The reality is you are dealing with unpredictable people. They weren't happy to see our guest and they weren't happy to see me either."
Kaczynski said the shots were fired only about 100 feet from the motorcade. He said it was unclear whether the gunfire was aimed at the motorcade or shots were fired into the air.
"I know from their shouting that they were Russians; I also know from the president of Georgia that there are Russian outposts on that territory," Kaczynski said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin insisted that no shots had been fired, and the Defense Ministry, in statements carried by Russian news agencies, dismissed the Georgian allegations as a "provocation."
South Ossetian separatist authorities also denied that shots had been fired.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have been deteriorating for several years. Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 was a popular uprising against elections that were seen as fraudulent. It drove President Eduard Shevardnadze, a former Soviet foreign minister, from office and ushered in pro-Western Saakashvili.
Russia recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian province, Abkhazia, as independent nations after an August war with Georgia, and it deployed nearly 4,000 troops to each region, a far larger presence than before the conflict.