TBILISI (Reuters) - Georgia said on Friday it had dismantled a Russian spy ring two years after their brief war, arresting four Russian citizens and nine Georgians.
Russia said the entire case was a “fabrication” and that the accused had nothing to do with Russia’s security services.
The arrests echoed a 2006 espionage saga that shattered
already tense relations between the Kremlin and Tbilisi.
“It goes back years,” Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said of the alleged spy ring. “It started before the (August 2008) war.”
The Interior Ministry said Georgia had managed to infiltrate Russia’s military intelligence service, planting a former Soviet army officer who “gained the trust” of the agency, commonly known as the GRU.
The Russian Foreign Ministry accused Georgia of a “provocation” timed to undermine the Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon on November 19-20 and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in early December in Kazakhstan.
“Saakashvili’s regime suffers from chronic spy mania and an anti-Russian bias,” the ministry said in a statement. It said Georgia frequently invented scandals to score political points at home and abroad.
Six of the Georgian citizens arrested were pilots in the Georgian air force.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said several dozen people had been found to be working for Russian military intelligence. The alleged spy ring, it said, had passed on information about military hardware supplies to Georgia, personnel figures, weapons details and air force flight schedules.
“We can say the whole network has now been uncovered,” Utiashvili said.
In the brief war between the ex-Soviet neighbours, Russia crushed an assault by Georgia’s U.S.-trained military on the rebel region of South Ossetia after months of Russian baiting and skirmishes with separatists.
The conflict, which dragged U.S.-Russian relations to a post-Cold War low, was the culmination of five years of worsening relations between Moscow and Tbilisi.
Saakashvili swept to power with the 2003 “Rose Revolution” and set Georgian sights on membership of NATO, angering Moscow.
In 2006, Georgia arrested four Russian military officers and 12 other people on espionage charges, a move condemned by Moscow as an “outrageous escapade.”
Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova and Conor Humphries in Moscow; writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Mark Heinrich