Russian 'spy ring' held in Georgia

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Georgian authorities have detained four Russian military officers accused of spying while troops from the country's Interior Ministry surrounded Russian military headquarters in Tbilisi to demand the handover of a fifth alleged Russian spy.

The Russians were arrested in the Georgian capital and the Black Sea port of Batumi on charges of espionage. Col Alexander Sava, one of the men held in Tbsili, was the alleged leader of the spy ring, Vano Merabishvili, the Georgian Interior Minister said. He said Col Sava had been responsible for a mine explosion that killed three police officers in the town of Gori in February 2005.

Twelve Georgian citizens were also detained as part of the same "very dangerous" spy chain, he said. Georgian authorities arrested the suspects to prevent a "serious provocation", Mr Merabishvili said: "They showed a particular interest in Georgia's defence capability, its programs of integration into Nato, energy security, political parties and organisations."

Russian deputy minister of foreign affairs Grigory Karasin said the arrests marked the "latest in a series of gross insults that affirm the anti-Russian policy of the Georgian leadership," a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry Web site said.