Thirteen 'Russian spies' arrested in Georgia

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The Independent Online

Georgia has announced the arrest of 13 people on charges of spying for Russia.

The detainees, four of them Russian citizens, were apprehended as part of a four-year operation which involved a Georgian double agent working for Russian military intelligence, the Georgian Interior Ministry said yesterday.

According to Otar Orjonikidze, the deputy head of Georgia's counter-intelligence department, six of the nine Georgians detained were helicopter pilots in the country's tiny air force. They were passing on information on their movements.

Using codewords that could have come from a list of Cold War clichés, the pilots referred to the helicopters as "parrots" and the base as "the bird cage". "When I said 'two parrots left the cage', it meant that two helicopters have taken off from the base," explained helicopter pilot Gabriel Ustalishvili in a videotaped confession released by the interior ministry.

The four Russian detainees include three businessmen and one man described as a liaison officer from Russian Military Intelligence. Moscow has reacted angrily to news of the arrests, with Grigory Karasin, the deputy foreign minister, describing the incident as a "political farce".