Russian officer arrested by Georgian Secret Service
MOSCOW -- At this hour it appears that the Russian Foreign Ministry is ready to break off all diplomatic relations with Georgia. On Wednesday the Foreign Ministry recalled Ambassador Vyacheslav Kovalenko from Tbilisi. Today the Ministry of Emergency Situations was ordered to prepare transport flights to evacuate Russian citizens from Georgia.
This latest diplomatic crisis was sparked by Georgia's arrest of six Russian peacekeeping officers and five Georgian citizens. All are charged with espionage and sabotage against Georgia. Georgian officials claim that they have a rock solid case. The alleged covert operations were supposedly managed from Russian military bases located in neighboring Armenia. Some of the Russian officers have even been charged with organizing terrorist attacks on Georgia's territory. The Russian Federation embassy and a Russian military base in Tbilisi have been surrounded by Georgian police and special forces since early morning Wednesday.
It is unclear if the Russian officers were involved in spying or if the Georgian government is simply trying to provoke another fight with Russia. A senior Armenian General, Mikhail Artnyan, has dismissed the row, declaring that "it will be impossible to draw Armenia and Russia into a fight". He added that "Georgians can make all the claims they want, but they have to present valid evidence."
A Russian officer talking with the Georgian Secret Service
It seems foolish for Georgians to break relations with Russia -- their largest trading partner and energy supplier. Russia Blog has written before that Georgia's struggling economy does not have much to offer in terms of trade and security partnerships with its neighbors. Many Georgian immigrate legally and illegally into Russia to make a living.
Russia has not issued visas for Georgian citizens since September 28, 2006
Starting today, the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi is shut down and will not be issuing Russian visas any time soon. This diplomatic conflict seems to benefit no one and will seriously harm Georgia's economy and damage the livelihoods of the Georgian people.
Russian military base surrounded by Georgian police, Secret Service and army units:
Russian troops locked inside their base: