13 people, including four Russian citizens, are under arrest on suspicion of spying for Russia, the Georgian Interior Ministry said on November 5.
Six out of nine arrested Georgian citizens are the Georgian army pilots – Vyacheslav Kluzhnikov, Gabriel Ustalishvili, Davit Meskhi, Gela Kakabadze, Gocha Diasamidze and Tarial Abashidze.
Other arrested Georgian citizens are: a sailor and a radio communications specialist Eduard Abdulaev; Ruslan Galogre, who worked as a manager at a hotel in Batumi and Bakur Kiguradze, described by the Interior Ministry as a businessman and a founder of non-governmental organization Globalization Institute.
While most of them were arrested in October, the Georgian press first reported about the arrest of Kiguradze on espionage charges in July, 2010.
Among the arrested Russian citizens are Armen Gevorkian and Ruben Shikoian – both were top executives of the Batumi branch of Saybolt Core Laboratories Company; Petre Devrishidze, a businessman from Kobuleti, Adjara Autonomous Republic and Yuri Skrilnikov, described by the Interior Ministry as a liaison officer of the Russian military service.
Skrilnikov was arrested in May, 2010. It was reported in mid-October that court in Batumi found him guilty of currency forgery and sentenced him on October 7 to 18 years in prison. At the time the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the verdict as "yet another provocation against the Russian citizen" who in the past served in now already closed down Russian military base in Batumi.
The Georgian Interior Ministry said in a statement that its counter-intelligence department uncovered the spy ring working for the Main Intelligence Division of the Russian Ministry of Defense (GRU - Glavnoye Razvedovatelnoye Upravlenie) as a result of "major operation". Total of 15 people were arrested, but two have been released as a result of plea bargain with them, according to the ministry. Most of the arrested persons are charged with espionage and two are charged with working for the foreign intelligence service.
As part of the operation, the Interior Ministry said, it had “planted a former Soviet Army officer into the GRU, who gained trust of the Russian Military Intelligence and started to work for this agency as a liaison officer.”
“In order to carry out espionage activities, Russians gave him special computer hardware and software for encrypting the exchanged information. This person handed over both the hardware and the software to the Interior Ministry’s counter-intelligence department thus making it possible to identify specifics of their [Russian spy ring’s] work,” the Interior Ministry said.
Otar Orjonikidze, deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s counter-intelligence department, said that the decision in 2006 to provide amnesty for those individuals who would have voluntarily reported about having links with foreign intelligences services, helped to uncover the spy network.
“After that [decision] several individuals approached the Interior Ministry and this recent operation was planned based on the information provided by those individuals. After four years of work, we have successfully accomplished the first stage of this operation in October 2010,” Orjonikidze said.
The news about the arrest of spy suspects first broke on October 29, when Reuters reported, citing Georgian security source, that 20 Georgian citizens were arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia.
The Georgian Interior Ministry has been declined to either confirm or deny the report until November 5. The date of making first official announcement about the case seemed to be deliberately selected, as Russian military intelligence marks its professional day on November 5.