Georgia's intelligence service arrested four Russian military officers on September 27 and charged them with espionage, Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said.
He added that eleven Georgian citizens suspected of cooperating with the Russian officers have also been arrested.
Meanwhile, Georgian police sealed off the headquarters of the Russian Troops in Trans-Caucasus in Tbilisi on September 27 demanding the extradition of one officer that Merabishvili said was involved with the group of intelligence operatives.
The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Irakli Chubinishvili, the Georgian Ambassador to Moscow, and demanded that the Georgian authorities “immediately release” the Russian officials.
“We had information that a serious provocation was planned by this group so we have decided to promptly capture these persons in order to avoid provocations,” Merabishvili said.
Merabishvili said that the four Russian citizens are officers from Russia’s Main Intelligence Service – GRU (Glavnoye Razvedovatelnoye Upravlenie).
He said that two of the Russians were arrested in Tbilisi - GRU colonel Alexander Sava, who was the alleged chief of the group operating in Georgia, and Dimitri Kazantsev.
Two others - Alexander Zavgorodny and Alexander Baranov - were arrested in Batumi, the Georgian Interior Minister said.
"This group, which operated in Georgia, was commanded from Yerevan by Anatoly Sinitsin. The latter was behind the February 1, 2005 terrorist act in Gori," Merabishvili said.
Earlier on September 27 Russian media sources, quoting officials from the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi, reported that four senior Russian officers were missing in Georgia.
The Georgian Interior Minister named the fifth wanted Russian as GRU officer Konstantine Pichugin, who “is currently hiding in the Headquarters of the Russian Troops in the Trans-Caucasus (GRVZ) in Tbilisi.”
“I am sure that Russia will spare no effort to let Konstantine Pichugin flee Russia, but we are categorically demanding his extradition,” Merabishvili said.
“Our police forces have sealed off the headquarters – you know that this territory still has diplomatic immunity, so we have no possibility to undertake any operation on this territory. So our counter-intelligence department has asked the GRVZ command to hand this agent over to the Georgian side,” Merabishvili said.
He also said that eleven Georgian citizens have been arrested and listed their names: Artashes Baloyan, Viktor Orekhov, Alexander Zalinian, Victor Zabrodin, Yuri Zabrodin, Goderdzi Dzuliashvili, Gia Kakauridze, Aziz Aslaniani, Karen Aboyan, Petre Apramian and Beso Gabaidze.
Merabishvili said that one person - Zia Samnidze, a Georgian citizen – is currently wanted by Georgian officers.
He said the group’s major sphere of interest was gathering information about Georgia’s armed forces, Georgia’s NATO integration, energy security, opposition parties and non-governmental organizations, military procurements, sea ports and railways, and Georgian troops stationed in the conflict zones.
“We have managed to neutralize a very dangerous group. We will provide additional information later,” Merabishvili said.