Russian-Georgian Spy Scandal ‘Irrelevant to Armenia’

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia distanced itself Thursday from the latest upsurge in Russian-Georgian tensions that has been triggered by the arrest of a group of Russian military officers for alleged spying which Georgia says was coordinated by Russian intelligence agents in Yerevan. Georgian authorities said on Wednesday that they detained four GRU (Russian military intelligence) officers as well as 11 Georgian citizens suspected of involvement in an alleged Russian plot against the pro-Western government in Tbilisi. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said they "acted under the leadership from Yerevan" of a top GRU officer whom he identified as Anatoly Sinitsyn. Moscow angrily rejected the accusations, demanding an immediate release of its citizens. Reuters reported that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov denounced as a "complete outrage" Georgia’s action which he said had also included the beating of a Russian officer and six soldiers in a separate incident in the Black Sea port of Batumi. Officials in Yerevan insisted that Armenia, Russia’s main regional ally, bears no responsibility for the acrimonious scandal. "We have nothing to do with that," the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, told RFE/RL. Colonel-General Mikael, the Armenian chief of staff, echoed the statement, urging journalists not to "jump into conclusions." He also dismissed as irrelevant the fact that four of the arrested Georgian nationals are reportedly ethnic Armenia’s. "They are citizens of Georgia, and I think authorities in Georgia will clear things up," said Harutiunian. "I think we will be able to say something concrete about this issue after finally understanding what the matter is. It is too premature to comment now." Asked about the Georgian claims that the alleged Russian espionage was guided from Armenian territory, Harutiunian replied: "They can say anything. What they say is their business. But there has to be evidence." Other Armenian officials argued that Yerevan has no control over the happenings inside Russia’s diplomatic missions and military base in Armenia. None of the diplomats at Russian embassy in Yerevan that bears the name Anatoly Sinitsyn, an embassy spokeswoman told RFE/RL. Merabishvili would not say if Tbilisi will raise the issue with Yerevan, and the Georgian embassy in Armenia declined a comment. According to Karapetian, the Armenian government has received no diplomatic notes or other messages from the Georgian side in connection with the affair. Russia’said it has recalled its ambassador from Tbilisi. The Foreign Ministry also announced a partial evacuation of Russian personnel and their families from Georgia because of a "growing threat to their security." The evacuation will start Friday (September 29) and will be conducted by aircraft of the Emergency Situations Ministry. The Foreign Ministry also advised Russia’s to refrain from trips to Georgia. "All [recent] actions by Georgian authorities can be characterized as utterly outrageous, as an open desire to provoke the Russian Federation, with the type of hysteria typical of the Georgian authorities, into acting inadequately," Ivanov said. "Naturally, we demand resolutely the immediate release of all the [detained] Russian officers. Russia’s reaction to these events will be adequate and sensible." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Thursday called their detention part of Georgia’s "anti-Russian policy" and urged the United Nations Security Council to step in to resolve the matter. Lavrov spoke to reporters Thursday in Russia’s Far East, as Georgian police were surrounding the Tbilisi headquarters of Russian forces in the South Caucasus. "This can only be regarded as yet another manifestation of an anti-Russian policy," Lavrov said. "We have demanded that our citizens be handed over immediately. We will stand firm in securing their release by all means available to us." Lavrov also criticized Georgia’s increasingly close ties to NATO and said the crisis merited the attention of the UN Security Council. Speaking to reporters Thursday in Moscow, Ivanov accused Georgia of violating agreemen’s on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia, where Moscow has retained two former Soviet military bases. "All of this is being done [by Georgia] to force out our peacemakers by all possible means, to make their status illegal, while violating absolutely all agreemen’s that have been achieved earlier on peacekeepers and on the procedure of withdrawing the Russian military bases from Georgia," Ivanov said. Russian news agency reports say that Ivanov also warned that Russia would deliver an "appropriate" response to Georgia and compared the arrests of the Russian officers to 1930s repression by the regime of Georgian-born Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

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