The Russian Foreign Ministry demanded on September 3 that Georgia “immediately release” two Russian citizens who were serving in Russia’s North Ossetian peacekeeping battalion in the South Ossetian conflict zone.
Georgian police arrested Tariel Khachirov and Vitaly Valiev in the South Ossetian conflict zone on August 29 and charged them with the illegal detention of four Georgian journalists from Rustavi 2 and Mze television stations and three other people, including a 13-year-old boy, on August 27 and 26, respectively. All were released on August 27. The two servicemen were sentenced to pre-trial custody for two months by a court in Mtskheta, a town close to the capital, Tbilisi, on August 30.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on September 3 that it had summoned Georgia’s charge d´affaires to Moscow over the issue.
It said that the arrest of the Russian citizens was “a rough violation” of the 1994 protocol, which stipulates that servicemen from the Joint Peacekeeping Forces (involving a battalion each from the Georgian, Russian and Russia’s North Ossetian, sides) “fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of their respective parties in case of any wrongdoing.”
“Consequently they can not be arrested by the Georgian law enforcement agencies and furthermore, sentenced by the Georgian judiciary,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Earlier, secessionist authorities in Tskhinvali, as well as the Russian command of the joint peacekeeping troops in the conflict zone, also demanded the detainees’ immediate release.
The Georgian State Ministry for Conflict Resolution Issues, however, rejected the demands, saying on August 31, that the two arrested soldiers were not from North Ossetia, but were in fact residents of South Ossetia. (Existing agreements ban the recruitment of local residents for service in the peacekeeping forces). It also said that Russia was trying “to politicize a purely criminal case.”
Shota Khizanishvili, a Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman, ruled out the possibility of release. “The detainees have already been charged and their release is impossible,” he told Civil.Ge on August 31.