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Georgia Detains 4 Russian Officers on Spying Charges
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Georgian security forces detained four Russian military officers on spying charges on Wednesday and demanded the handover of a fifth officer, and Russia summoned Georgia's ambassador to demand their immediate release.

"Counter-intelligence officers detained several people, among them four officers of the main intelligence department of the Russian armed forces and over 10 Georgian nationals," Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili was quoted by the Interfax news agency as telling a briefing in Tbilisi.

"The group had been engaged in intelligence gathering in Georgia for several months," he said, adding they were mainly interested in Georgia's defense capability.

Merabishvili identified the fifth officer as Lt. Col. Konstantin Pichugin and said he was hiding inside the Russian army's regional headquarters in Tbilisi.

Georgian police cordoned off the headquarters.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry protested the arrests and summoned Georgia's ambassador to demand the immediate release of the officers.

"They are facing ungrounded accusations," Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said, quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency.

Karasin described the arrest of Russian officers as a manifestation of the Georgian leadership's anti-Russian course.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have dipped since President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in 2003. Tensions over Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and a Russian ban on imports of Georgian wines have further strained the relations in recent months. As recently as Friday, Russia slammed a NATO decision to forge closer ties with Georgia.

(Xinhua News Agency September 28, 2006)

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