Georgia detains alleged spies; Moscow rejects claims as "spy mania"
Georgia has uncovered a spy ring with 13 agents who have allegedly been providing its former wartime enemy Russia with secret information, the Interior Ministry said Friday, dpa reports.
The announcement on the ministry's website came in the wake of media reports that the suspects have been in custody since October. The state-run television Rustawi2 has been advertising an investigative report on the spy case for days.
Georgian counter-intelligence officers said they discovered the spy ring after one of its agents in the Russian Defence Ministry - a former Soviet officer - provided the list of names and extensive computer data to Georgian authorities.
Four Russians are reportedly among the men arrested, who include employees of oil companies and six Georgian military pilots.
But Russian secret service sources told the Interfax news agency that the suspects were not agents.
Moscow also rejected the allegations as "anti-Russian provocation" by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.
"The Saakashvili regime suffers from chronic 'spy mania,'" a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said, describing the Georgian leader as paranoid.
Russian officials also accused Georgia of attempting to disrupt an upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon, in which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is supposed to participate, and a summit of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe next month in Kazakhstan.
"Clearly, Georgia wants to attract attention and harm Russia before these summits," a Foreign Ministry worker said.
Opposition politicians in Tbilisi also criticized Saakashvili for attempting to divert attention away from domestic and especially economic problems.
Russia and its Caucasus neighbour broke off diplomatic relations in 2008 after their war over South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The conflict saw Georgia lose control over the separatist regions. After the war, Russia recognized both as independent states and stationed thousands of soldiers there despite international protests.
Moscow leaders have accused Saakashvili of plotting to recapture the two regions