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TV Documentary on 'Russian Spy Network'
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 6 Nov.'10 / 03:12

Georgia's most watched television station, Rustavi 2, aired during prime time on November 5 a documentary about alleged Russian spy network, which the Georgian Interior Ministry said, had operated in Georgia for years until it was uncovered last month.

The first reports about the arrest of individuals suspected of spying for Russia emerged last week. The first official announcement came only a week later on November 5; meantime, Rustavi 2 was airing a trailer of its planned documentary about, what it called, "“total fiasco of the Russian intelligence”.

Rustavi 2 TV, regarded as a pro-governmental nationwide broadcaster, was given an exclusive access not only to case files but was also able to film arrest of some alleged spies in Batumi on October 15.

The 30-minute documentary centers on a double agent with a code name 'Enveri', who, according to the Georgian Interior Ministry, played a key role in obtaining the Russian military intelligence's encryption materials through which, it said, it became possible to expose the alleged spy network.

The double agent, interviewed in dark studio, so that to hide his face, on a background of some Soviet symbols, was speaking in Russian saying that in late 1980s he served for the Soviet military intelligence in Georgia's port town of Poti.

According to the Interior Ministry in 2006, when major spy row erupted between Russia and Georgia after Tbilisi arrested four Russian military officers on espionage charges, number of Georgian citizens turned themselves in admitting having links with the Russian intelligence. At the time the authorities promised amnesty for those who would have voluntarily reported about links with the foreign intelligence.

According to the documentary, the trend showed alarming scales of the Russian intelligence operations in Georgia prompting the Georgian counter-intelligence to find someone who could have been planted inside the network. The former Soviet army officer was selected, according to the documentary.

"I was hesitant initially, but eventually agreed as I have always been in service of my homeland - if at first it was the Soviet Union, then it was Georgia," the double agent with code name 'Enveri' says in the documentary.

He said, that under the pretext of wanting to retrieve his pension as a former Soviet army officer, he contacted his "old acquaintances" in the Russian military intelligence and arranged a meeting in a Russian town close to the Ukrainian border. According to the documentary there he met with three operatives from the Russian military intelligence (GRU - Glavnoye Razvedovatelnoye Upravlenie), including one with name Sergey Akimov. The operatives, he said, trained him in how to use specially developed spy hardware and special software for exchange of encrypted information.

After three days of "extensive training", the double agent, before departure back to Georgia, met with Yuri Zhilin, described in the documentary as chief GRU operative in Russia's Krasnodar region.

After that, according to the documentary, he was regularly exchanging messages with GRU in a form of encrypted texts, image and music files mainly via e-mail. Encoding of such files, according to the documentary, required multiple passwords and software. In the process, according to the documentary, it also became possible to identify dozens of other Georgian citizens working for the Russian intelligence and in addition at least one GRU liaison officer was also identified -  the Russian citizen, Yuri Skrilnikov, according to the Interior Ministry.

According to the documentary Skrilnikov arrived in Georgia in May, 2010 for a meeting with the double agent, but he was detained by the Georgian counter-intelligence. What the documentary does not mention is that Skrilnikov was formally charged with currency forgery; another Russian citizen and one Georgian citizen were also arrested together with him - all of them worked for the Russian military based in Batumi before it was finally closed down in November, 2007.

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 the Russian military base in Batumi. Skrilnikov is among those 13 persons, who, the Georgian Interior Ministry said on November 5, were arrested on spying charges.

The double agent says in the documentary that his Russian minders were "very much interested" in information related to western warships' port calls in Georgia, training courses carried out by Georgia's western partners for the Georgian forces, defense plan of the ports, structure of the Georgian land forces and thier location. He said all the information he was sending to his Russian handlers was approved by the Georgian intelligence.

In the documentary a pilot of the Mi-8 army helicopter, who is among six Georgian military pilots charged with spying, says that during the August, 2008 war he informed his Russian handlers that Georgian helicopters were probably hidden in the Borjomi gorge. He said the wildfire, which erupted in the gorge, destroying over 200 hectares of forest there during the war, was probably a result of the information he provided to the Russian intelligence.

In the end of the documentary narrator says that the operation against the Russian spy networks, "which was unprecedented in our country's history, enters into the new phase." It was then followed with an announcement made by deputy head of the Interior Ministry's counter-intelligence unit reiterating the authorities' promise guaranteeing amnesty for those who will voluntarily report about thier links with the foreign intelligence services.

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