Four Russian officers suspected of spying against Georgia were sentenced to two-month pre-trial custody by the court in Tbilisi on September 29.
The court has also sentenced three other Russian officers to custody in their absence. Konstantin Pichugin, who is wanted by Georgia for alleged spying, is among them. The Georgian side claims Pichugin in sheltering in the Russian Troops Headquarters in Tbilisi and demands his extradition. Russia has already ruled out the possibility of handing him over.
The court in Tbilisi also sentenced ten Georgian citizens , who are suspected of cooperating with the Russian military intelligence, to custody.
The Georgian Interior Ministry issued a video on September 29 showing testimony given by five of the Georgian citizens confessing to cooperating with Russian military intelligence. One of them, Viktor Orekhov, says in the testimony, which was recorded by the Interior Ministry’s press office, that he has been cooperating with Russian intelligence since 1999. He says that information about investment programs and the Georgian armed forces, as well as the situation on the Georgian-Turkish border, were major targets of Russian intelligence.
Meanwhile, a Russian Emergency Ministry Ilyushin cargo plane with over 100 Russian citizens onboard took off from Tbilisi International Airport on September 29 following Russia’s decision to launch a “partial evacuation” of its citizens after the spy row erupted. Russian Ambassador to Georgia Viacheslav Kovalenko was among the passengers.
President Saakashvili said on September 29 the decision to evacuate was “an excessive move,” as there is no security threat to Russian citizens in Georgia.
“Staging this kind of show about the evacuation of Russian citizens is simply a propaganda gesture, and I think that it was an extreme measure,” Saakashvili told reporters.
The President said that he had phone conversations with number of foreign leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Belgium Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht.
“I think everybody accepts Georgia’s position with understanding,” Saakashvili said.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has called for “moderation and de-escalation” in the tension that has developed between Russia and Georgia. Speaking at a news conference after a NATO-Russian Council (NRC) session in Slovenia on September 29, Scheffer also noted that NATO will not play “a direct role” in this dispute.
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Ivanov, also speaking in Slovenia after the NRC session, said that the detention of the Russian officers was part of “series of provocations” by Georgia with the ultimate goal to forcefully regain control over breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
“Georgia has chosen the military way of solving the South Ossetian and Abkhaz issues. This is the source of the rest of the [provocations]… Clear and obvious logic is seen in the actions of the Georgian leadership: first to push the Russian peacekeepers out; then to solve problems of frozen conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia through military means and then to officially apply for NATO membership,” Ivanov said.
Meanwhile in Moscow, a series of protest rallies organized by, as the Georgian Foreign Ministry said, “different political groups,” were held outside the Georgian Embassy. One group of protesters threw stones at the Embassy, shattering windows.