Russia detains 'Georgian spy'

Russia on Friday claimed to have captured a Georgian spy allegedly working to destabilise southern Russia. Georgia wasted no time in dismissing the claims as "absurd." R. Goguelin reports from Moscow.


Russia said Friday it had captured a Georgian spy allegedly operating in southern Russia to destabilise the region, as tensions mounted between Moscow and its pro-Western neighbour.

Georgia immediately rejected the Russian claims as "absurd."

Russian news agencies quoted unnamed sources in the FSB security service as saying they had captured a 34-year-old who had been living in southern Russia's war-torn Chechyna region and recruiting among insurgent groups and the security forces.

"An agent has been exposed, a Russian citizen, a native of Georgia," an FSB source told Interfax, adding that the capture "confirms the involvement of Georgian secret services in disruptive terrorist activity in the North Caucasus."

The claim comes as tensions between Georgia and Russia have dramatically escalated, centring on the Russian-backed separatist regions in Georgia of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Interfax source said the suspect's work was "to organise contacts between Georgian secret services and active members of illegal armed groups on Russian territory" in order to provide financing and "organise armed resistance."

The source also claimed the suspect had links with the remote Pankisi mountain gorge on Georgia's side of the two countries' border, a place Russia has long insisted is an insurgent hideout.

"For fulfilling his tasks the agent several times received financial rewards from Georgia's special services in American dollars. Some of these were handed over in personal meetings, some by ... money transfer," the source said.

The claims were rejected by Georgia's interior ministry.

"It is an absurd accusation. Russia's provocations are becoming more and more aggressive," Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AFP.

Tensions between Russia and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili have risen as Georgia pursues membership of the NATO military alliance and tries to retake control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Tbilisi and Moscow have traded spying accusations before, notably in September 2006, when Georgia arrested four Russian alleged spies.

Last month Russia announced it was establishing formal ties with Georgia's separatist regions, even though it claims to recognise Georgia's territorial integrity.

On Friday a policeman was injured in one of two explosions in South Ossetia, local media reported, prompting angry reactions by Georgia's defence ministry and the South Ossetian leadership.

"It's clear that the separatists are turning to terrorist methods," Georgian Deputy Defence Minister Batu Kutelia said. The separatist administration blamed "terrorists" it said were trying to discredit it.

In Abkhazia, Moscow this month announced an increase in its peacekeeping force, long seen as giving de facto backing to the rebels.

Abkhaz separatists claim to have recently shot down Georgian reconnaissance drones. Georgia has denied those claims, saying that just one drone has been destroyed by a Russian fighter jet.

Underlying the disputes is Saakashvili's drive to join NATO, a move strongly opposed by Russia.

Georgia's minister for reintegration of separatist territories, Temur Yakobashvili, said during a visit to Moscow that peace negotiations should be expanded to include international bodies, including the European Union.

At present Russia is the main outside power in Georgia's separatist conflicts.

"The presence of the Russian side is indispensable but Russia should not have an exclusive right," Yakobashvili said at a press conference. "It's been the only one to participate in recent years and look what happened."

He said that Moscow's reaction to the proposal was "negative."

He denied a Russian press report that Georgia wanted Russia to host a peace conference.

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