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Spy Row Ends, but Tensions Remain
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 2 Oct.'06 / 18:23

Georgia released four Russian military officers in an OSCE-brokered deal on October 2, putting an end to a four-day spy row with Russia.

President Saakashvili said that the release is “a good gesture towards our western friends” and is in no way a response to threats voiced by the Russian leadership.

Speaking at a news conference after talks with OSCE Chairman-in-Office Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, Saakashvili said that Georgia will hand over the Russian officers to the OSCE.

“I am grateful to the President of Georgia for his goodwill gesture to accept the OSCE offer to resolve this issue, which, by the way, was agreed on last Saturday, and which I hope will reduce tensions. I also call on the Russian side to respond in a similar way with gestures to decrease tensions rapidly,” Karel De Gucht said.

Shortly after the announcement Georgian television stations aired the handover live, which took place outside the Georgian General Prosecutor’s Office.

A police guard escorted four handcuffed Russian officers from the building of the General Prosecutor’s Office and then an official from the prosecutor’s office read the official accusations to each of the suspects.

“You are accused of espionage against Georgia… for this reason you are being expelled from the country. Starting from this moment, you are banned from entering the territory of Georgia,” the statement read in part.

Then a delegation of the OSCE, led De Gucht and accompanied by Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, appeared in the yard.

Following Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze’s announcement that Georgia is handing over the spy suspects to the OSCE, the police guard escorted the officers to OSCE cars, which took them to the Tbilisi airport. The Russian Emergency Ministry sent a plane on October 2 to return the officers to Moscow.

Russian NTV television reported that the OSCE representatives escorted two other Russian officers to the Tbilisi Airport. One of them is Konstantin Pichugin, who was also charged for espionage and until now was reportedly in the Headquarters of the Russian Troops in Tbilisi. The Georgian police have been cordoning off the Headquarters since September 27, demanding Pichugin's extradition.

After talks with the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, President Saakashvili stressed that by arresting the Russian officers Georgia uncovered “a very solid case of espionage.”

“We have destroyed an intelligence network in Georgia... We have neutralized this kind of network for the first time in Georgia, and be sure that we will neutralize it if it re-emerges again.” he added.

“I want to make it very clear: we had a very well founded case, it is a very solid case of espionage, subversion trying to destabilize my country. This case has been documented; it has all the legal proofs and evidence and some of it has been shown on television worldwide and we also have some additional materials, all of which we are handing over to the OSCE,” Saakashvili said.

He also said that Georgia has been listening to Russia’s “menace” of possible military intervention “for months and years and in fact since Georgia’s independence in 1991.”

“The message of Georgia to our neighbor Russia is: 'enough is enough.' We want to have good relations, we want to be constructive and we want dialogue with Russia, but we can not be treated as a second-rate backyard of some kind of reemerging empire,” Saakashvili said.

He said that the “time of banging a shoe on the table of the international community has passed away together with Nikita Khrushov in the 60s.”

This latter remark was a a clear response to President Putin’s October 1 statement, who said that the arrest of the Russian officers in Georgia was “a sign of the legacy of Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria” -  chief of Soviet secret service in charge of Stalinist purges.

Saakashvili went on to say that one can not claim “to have international prestige and a strong international position” and simultaneously “behave as a bully and use blackmail trying to undermine your own neighbors.”

“These two are incompatible,” Saakashvili said.

He said that Georgia is ready “to get rid of this kind of relation. We are ready for open, cooperative and equal relations with our great neighbor of Russia.”

“I am sure that despite everything, we will soon be there, we will get these relations… This is my message to the international community,” Saakashvili said.

The release of the four Russian officers came after intensive international efforts aimed at defusing Russian-Georgian tensions over the spy row. Apart from the OSCE, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and U.S. officials were also involved in the efforts.

Solana has already welcomed the release and expressed hope that “relations can now be re-established between Russia and Georgia.”

On October 2 the Russian and U.S. Presidents held a phone conversation to discuss situation with Georgia.

“While discussing the situation in Georgia, the Russian side stressed that any kind of action by the third party that might be interpreted by the Georgian leadership as encouragement of their destructive policy is inadmissible and poses a danger towards peace and stability in the region,” the Russian President’s press office said in a statement.

Meanwhile in Moscow, the Russian authorities announced on October 2 intentions to cut air links with Tbilisi starting from October 3. The announcement came shortly before the release of the Russian officers and it was not immediately clear whether the measure will still be enforced after the release of the officers.

Russian Deputy Transport Minister air service has been suspended due to a USD 3,6 million debt owed by Georgian airlines for air traffic services in Russia.

Also earlier on October 2, Russian Duma Council Chairman Boris Grizlov said that Russian MPs from the lower house of the Parliament will develop a law authorizing the government to ban money transfers from Russia into “certain countries” in “cases of emergency.”

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