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Russia Recalls Envoy, Plans Evacuation of Citizens
/ 28 Sep.'06 / 19:28
Civil Georgia

Russia has recalled its Ambassador from Georgia “for consultations” and announced plans to launch a “partial evacuation” of its citizens from Georgia in a sign of deepening tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow following the arrest of four Russian military officers accused of spying.

“The Russian side decided to recall Russian Ambassador in Tbilisi Vyacheslav Kovalenko to Moscow for consultations. In connection with the increasing threat to the security of employees of Russian institutions in Georgia and members of their families, it was decided to launch their partial evacuation from this country. The first flights by planes of the Ministry of Extraordinary Situations are planned for September 29,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Russia has also recommended that its citizens refrain from visiting Georgia.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Russia’s announcement of the “partial evacuation” of its citizens from Georgia is “hysteria.”

“There is no threat to the families of Russian servicemen in Georgia,” Saakashvili told reporters on September 28.

In addition, Russia stopped issuing visas to Georgian citizens on September 28.

But the Georgian leader downplayed possible sanctions from Moscow, saying that Russia has already exhausted available measures to mount pressure on Georgia.

“I think that our reaction should be without any extra anxiety and emotion. I have been openly stating for more than a year already that our counter-intelligence is working... It seems that someone thought I was joking or just boasting… Everyone should understand that we are an effective, efficient, democratic state. So no one should be surprised about our actions,” Saakashvili told reporters.

The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs unveiled audio and video recordings on September 28 that, according to the Minister Vano Merabishvili, "obviously prove" that four Russian officers and eleven Georgian citizens arrested on September 27 were engaged in espionage against Georgia.
“The evidence available to us proves that GRU [the Russian military intelligence] officers had a spy ring here in Georgia… Local operatives were instructed to obtain secret information and documentation,” Merabishvili said. He added that "We will provide more evidence later."

In Moscow, U.S. Ambassador to Russia William Burns met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin on September 28 to discuss the situation surrounding the ‘spy’ row between Russia and Georgia.

“The Russian side has stressed that these provocative actions undertaken by the Georgian leadership are a threat not only to Russian-Georgian relations but also to regional security,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an information note.

“The Russian side demands the immediate release of its citizens and the lifting of the blockade around the Headquarters of the Russian Troops in the Trans-Caucasus [in Tbilisi] and hopes for the understanding and support of [our] American partners,” the Russian Foreign Ministry stated.

Georgian political analyst Giorgi Khelashvili says that Tbilisi is “boldly using its limited levers to deal with Russia.”

“Georgia’s major target is conflicts. Georgia wants to increase international pressure on Russia in order to achieve the internationalization of the conflict resolution process,” Giorgi Khelashvili told Civil Georgia.

Analyst Davit Aprasidze also says that recent developments should be viewed in the context of conflict resolution.

“I think this is part of a long-term strategy with the major focus on the secessionist conflicts,” Aprasidze told Civil Georgia.

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