Georgia Arrests Four Russian Spy Suspects

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TBILISI, Georgia — Georgian authorities detained four Russian military officers on spying charges yesterday, and security forces surrounded Russia’s military headquarters in Tbilisi to demand that another suspect be handed over, the interior minister said.

Vano Merabishvili said the Russians, who were detained in the Georgian capital and the Black Sea port of Batumi, had been involved in espionage for several years and were planning a “major provocation.” Twelve Georgians were also detained as part of the spy ring.

“They showed a particular interest in Georgia’s defense capability, its programs of integration into NATO, energy security, political parties, and organizations” as well as information about the nation’s military forces and infrastructure, Mr. Merabishvili added.

He said the ring was led by a Russian agent who staged a February 2005 mine explosion that killed three police officers in the town of Gori.

Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili said Interior Ministry forces would keep vigil at the headquarters until Russia turned over the suspect, who was accused of spying.

The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Georgia’s ambassador to Moscow to protest the detentions and demand the officers’ immediate release. The ministry denounced the Georgian allegations as unfounded and said the detentions “underlined the Georgian leadership’s anti-Russian course.”

The move highlights escalating tensions between the ex-Soviet Caucasus nation and its giant northern neighbor since President Saakashvili came to power following Georgia’s 2003 Rose Revolution and pledged to move the country more toward the West. Earlier this year, Russia banned imports of Georgian wine and mineral water on sanitary reasons, which was widely seen as a cover for an attempt to hurt Georgia’s economy.

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