TBILISI, Georgia – Shots were fired near the motorcade carrying the presidents of Georgia and Poland on Sunday — the fifth anniversary of Georgia's Rose Revolution — Georgian officials said. No one was hurt in the shooting.
Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who led the pro-Western 2003 uprising but whose popularity has waned in recent months, blamed Russian troops in Georgia's breakaway province of 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 from only about 100 feet from the motorcade. He said it was not clear if the gunfire was aimed at the motorcade or shots were fired into the air.
But he said the incident demonstrated the weakness of the French-brokered truce that ended Russia's August war with Georgia over South Ossetia. The truce agreement, Kaczynski said, "does not reflect reality."
"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.
"Fire was opened on Georgian territory, and territory that until August this year was controlled by the authorities in Tbilisi," he added.
The plan, brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, called for Russian troops to withdraw from areas outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but they have remained in several areas controlled by Georgia before the war, including the area around the town of Akhalgori, near which the firing was said to have occurred.
Kaczynski criticized the European Union and NATO which, he said, have failed to take united action to counter what he described as Russia's attempt to rebuild the Soviet empire.
"Today, it's not too late yet, but tomorrow it might be," he said.
Relations between Russia and Georgia have been deteriorating for several years. The 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 pro-Western Saakashvili into power.
Saakashvili's popularity has dwindled as critics have charged him with authoritarianism and with mishandling the war with Russia. This year's anniversary was marked with little jubilation. A former ally used the occasion to launch a drive to unseat Saakashvili.
The circumstances of Sunday's incident remained unclear as night fell. Russia's deputy foreign minister, Grigory Karasin, insisted that no shots has been fired, and the Russian 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 in the area. A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry in Moscow said he had no immediate comment on the Georgian claims.
Even Georgian officials differed among themselves. Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the shots were fired as the motorcade approached a Russian military checkpoint near the Akhalgori in South Ossetia. But lawmaker Marika Verulashvili said the incident happened as the motorcade approached a Georgian police checkpoint near the breakaway province after visiting a camp of Georgian refugees.
Georgian Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia criticized Russia over the incident.
"We are facing the aggressive and irresponsible behavior of the occupation forces," he said in televised remarks.
Georgia's Parliament speaker, David Bakradze, urged the international community to condemn the shooting, saying it "shows what kind of treacherous power we are facing."
Russia recognized South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian province, Abkhazia, as independent nations after the war and deployed nearly 4,000 troops to each region, a far larger presence than before the conflict.
The war broke out when Saakashvili launched an offensive Aug. 7 to regain control of South Ossetia. Russia sent in troops which quickly routed the Georgian military.
The war and Moscow's subsequent recognition of the two breakaway regions have badly strained Russia-west ties.