Russian 'spies' arrested in Georgia

Thirteen people including four Russian citizens have been arrested in Georgia and accused of spying for Moscow’s armed forces, government officials in Tbilisi said today.

Otar Ordzhonikidze, deputy chief of counter-intelligence in the Georgian interior ministry, said six of the accused were military pilots and one was a naval radio operator who passed on secret military codes.

The arrests, which took place in October, were announced on the day Russia’s military intelligence agency celebrated its professional holiday, Day of the Military Intelligence Officer.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it would wait for more information about the arrests before reacting.

“Let’s wait, let’s see how convincing this political farce will be before giving our commentary,” Russian ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying.

Ordzhonikidze said the operation to round up the accused spies began in 2006 when the interior ministry offered an amnesty to anyone who voluntarily admitted to having worked for foreign intelligence services.

Information provided by some of the people who accepted the amnesty eventually led to the latest round of arrests.

Also in 2006, four Russian officers based in Georgia were arrested and charged with working for Russian military intelligence. Russia, which at the time still maintained troops in Georgia, was outraged and recalled its ambassador.

The officers were soon handed over but Russia continued to strike back. All travel links with Georgia were cut, police began raiding Georgian businesses in Moscow and some Georgians living in Russia were deported.

More arrests on espionage charges have followed on both sides.

In March this year, a Russian military court convicted a Georgian and two former Russian military officers of spying for Georgia.

Ordzhonikidze said about 60 people had been arrested in Georgia on suspicion of spying for Russia in the past six years.

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