AKHMAJI, Georgia – Russia's foreign minister has suggested that Georgia's U.S.-backed government staged a shooting incident near a motorcade carrying the presidents of Poland and Georgia in order to discredit Russia and South Ossetia.
The shooting late Sunday stoked anger months after Georgia and Russia fought a brief war over the separatist region of South Ossetia. The August conflict worsened Moscow's relations with the West.
It also left South Ossetia entirely under the control of separatist forces and Russian troops. Before the war, Georgian forces held parts of South Ossetia.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has blamed Russian troops for the gunfire that broke out as he and Polish President Lech Kaczynski were traveling near a roadblock at the edge of South Ossetia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said there was no gunfire from Russian or South Ossetian positions, and he suggested Georgia engineered the incident to discredit Russia and South Ossetia, Russian news agencies reported.
"This is a provocation, clearly," Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying late Sunday in Peru, where he was accompanying President Dmitry Medvedev. "It's not the first time something like this has happened: They organize everything themselves and then blame the Russian or Ossetian side."
Russia and Georgia have accused each other of starting the August war, which began with a Georgian artillery barrage on the South Ossetian capital.
Georgia says the assault was prompted by Russia sending a massive troop contingent into South Ossetia. But Russia denies that and in turn accuses Georgia of a brutal action targeting civilians.
"Georgia's authorities thought it possible to resolve this country's territorial integrity problem by using Stalin's principle that is well known in our country: 'no man, no problem'," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Monday.
Poland has harshly criticized Russia's actions in the war.
Video footage shot by Georgian television shows the motorcade next to the Russian checkpoint as gunfire erupts off camera.
Kaczynski said Sunday that the shots were fired from only about 100 feet (30 meters) from the motorcade. He said it was not clear if the gunfire was aimed at the motorcade or shots were fired into the air.
"I know from their shouting that they were Russians," Kaczynski said.
But on Monday, Polish parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski said "quick accusations leveled at the Russians on who-knows-what basis will undoubtedly have an impact on "Polish-Russian ties" and suggested the incident appeared to be "not very serious at all."
Georgian police have brought rocket-propelled grenade launchers to their heavily fortified positions in the area, near the disputed territory of Akhalgori. It was unclear exactly when the weapons were moved in, but they had not been visible a few weeks ago.
Russian-backed soldiers blocked the road into the region Monday. At a checkpoint, agitated Ossetian troops shouted threats at an Associated Press reporter as he approached.
One then leveled a machine gun at the reporter and demanded that he leave immediately. "Get out of here," the soldier said, raising his gun, "and don't you dare come back."
No Russian troops were visible at the checkpoint, which is supposed to be under joint Russian-South Ossetian command.
Akhalgori is particularly tense. Unlike most of South Ossetia, it was controlled by Georgia before the war, and Georgia says the presence of Russian and South Ossetian forces there violates the terms of a French-brokered cease-fire that called for a return to pre-conflict positions.
The war broke out when Georgia launched an offensive Aug. 7 to gain control of South Ossetia. Russia sent in troops that routed the Georgian military. Russia recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway province, Abkhazia, as independent nations after the war and deployed thousands of troops to both regions.
In Warsaw, some officials questioned Kaczynski's decision to put himself in the line of danger, as well as his strong alignment with the Georgian cause.