Spies working for the Russian intelligence are still operating in Georgia, but they are under counter-intelligence agency’s surveillance and their effectiveness is now minimal, Vano Merabishvili, the Georgian interior minister, said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio station on July 6.
“Not all agents working for Russia have been arrested; they are under our surveillance; we are monitoring their actions, plans and I am satisfied with the work of our counter-intelligence,” Merabishvili said.
He said that after a major crackdown on spy networks last autumn, “it became harder for the Russian agents to work in Georgia”, as they had been left with less space for maneuvering.
“We have closed their important channels of receiving information,” Merabishvili said.
“Effectiveness of old [spy] networks are now already minimal… The Russian intelligence, including GRU [Russia’s military intelligence] are working actively to create new spy networks, because they understood that the old ones have collapsed, but setting up new networks is very difficult,” he added.
On July 6 court in Georgia’s Black Sea town of Batumi found nine men, including three Russian citizens, guilty of espionage against Georgia and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms. Two Russian citizens and four Georgians were sentenced to eleven years in prison; one Georgian citizen was jailed for 13 years and six months and one Georgian and one Russian citizen, Yuri Skrilnikov, were sentenced to 14 years in jail.
All of them, except of Skrilnikov, were arrested last autumn as part of, what the Georgian Interior Ministry said, was undercover operation against the Russian spy network.
Skrilnikov was arrested in May, 2010 over separate charges, involving currency forgery; in that case he was found guilty by the court in Batumi in October, 2010 and sentenced 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 court ruling in Batumi and Merabishvili’s remarks were made hours before police arrested five photojournalists in Tbilisi overnight on Thursday – one, working for The Associated Press, was released shortly after the noon on July 7 without being charged. Other four were charged with espionage, but the Interior Ministry has not released other details and lawyers declined to speak on details because cases have been classified as secret.