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Tbilisi “ready to negotiate” with Moscow

By Mzia Kupunia
Wednesday, November 10
The detention of 9 Georgian and 4 Russian citizens, suspected of espionage for Russia, remains in the media spotlight as senior Georgian officials keep making statements on the issue. On Tuesday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili thanked Georgian law enforcers for participating in the special operation to reveal the alleged Russian spy network, praising them for being good professionals.

“The President thanks the staff of Georgian special agencies who, as a result of their professionalism managed to reveal the Russian military espionage net and their criminal activities directed against the security of our country, as well as against our people,” Saakashvili’s Press Speaker, Manana Manjgaladze said at Tuesday’s regular press briefing.

The Georgian Interior Ministry announced about the arrest of 13 people on charges of espionage on November 5. The statement triggered Moscow’s anger, with high-rank Russian politicians and diplomats assessing the act as a “propaganda trick”, a “provocation” and a “political farce”.

While the Georgian officials evaluated the detention of the alleged spies as a “victory of Georgian special agencies”, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Georgia of “anti-Russian spy mania.” In its statement, issued on November 5, the Russian MFA suggested that “during the last several years the Georgian leadership has fabricated such scandals several times, cynically hoping to get internal and external political dividends.” Russian MPs stated that Moscow will “never abandon its citizens in trouble.”

Official Tbilisi later stated that the Georgian side is ready to start negotiations with Russia on the fate of the four Russian citizens detained on spying charges. Georgian deputy Foreign Minister, Nino Kalandadze said that the incident will be considered “settled” if the Georgian side does not find any new incidences of espionage or any more Russian special agents on Georgian territory.

“It is a very sensitive issue and we cannot turn a blind eye to it just because it might irritate someone. We acted the way we should have acted,” Kalandadze told journalists on Monday, adding that the reaction of the Kremlin to the detention of the alleged spies was “unsatisfactory”.

“Releasing people charged with espionage is the prerogative of the law enforcement agencies,” the Deputy Minister noted. The Georgian President’s administration has refrained from commenting whether the issue of possible extradition of the detained Russian citizens is being discussed, Saakashvili’s Press Speaker said, “Additional information on this issue will be released in the next few days.”

Some Georgian analysts suggest that the spy incident will end with the suspects being handed over to Russia. “There are two options: the detained Russian citizens will be handed over to Russia in return for Georgian detainees, if there are any; or they will have to serve their sentence in Georgia,” analyst Soso Tsintsadze told The Messenger. “In my opinion being a citizen of Russia should not be an indulgence for spies, because as long as Russian citizens know that if arrested on spying charges they will merely be sent back to Russia and welcomed as heroes in Moscow, then incidents like this will be a permanent problem,” he said.