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Georgia nabs Russian 'spy ring,' angering Moscow

Georgia on Friday accused 13 people, including four Russians, of spying for Russia after a four-year investigation.

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Georgian authorities have also often accused political opponents of President Mikhail Saakashvili of receiving funding and instructions from Moscow.

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Almost 60 people have been arrested in Georgia on suspicion of spying for Russia over the past six years, including a 2006 case involving four Russian military officers based in Georgia and 12 Georgian citizens. The Russians were subsequently returned to Moscow.

Russia's independent Interfax agency quoted an anonymous Russian foreign ministry official as saying that Moscow is "deeply angered" by the arrests.

"Obviously, this was done ahead of the Russia-NATO summit in Lisbon," where Russia and NATO will seek to repair their troubled relationship, "in order to attract as much attention as possible and to harm Russia," the official said.

But Ghia Nodia, an analyst with the independent Caucasian Institute of Peace, Democracy and Development, says "these are real spies. I don't think it's an artificial action. Internal and external factors of irritation really do exist, even if relations between Georgia and Russia have stabilized lately."

Documentary film on investigation set to air today

Rumors have been flying wildly since Reuters reported a week ago that 20 Georgians had been arrested for forming an extensive spy ring within the country's armed forces and government structures. At the time, Georgian police refused to confirm or deny that arrests had taken place, and little information about the scandal was allowed to leak into the public sphere until today's press conference.

However, Georgia's pro-government Rustavi-2 TV network announced Friday that it has a documentary film of the years-long investigation set to air today, which raises questions about the relationship between journalists and authorities.

"The film depicts how the Georgian counterintelligence service managed to break the largest-ever espionage network," in Georgia, the announcement from Rustavi-2 said.

Georgian TV stations have been accused in the past of cooperating with the authorities to spread an anti-Moscow message. A notable example was the airing of a fictitious TV "news documentary" earlier this year that used real-time news reporting techniques to describe a Russian invasion of Georgia, followed by the installation of a Moscow "puppet government" headed by Georgian opposition leader Nino Burdzhanadze.

'Chronic anti-Russian spy mania'

Russia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement blasting Saakashvili's government, saying the "regime suffers from chronic anti-Russian spy mania.

"Over recent years the Georgian government has repeatedly resorted to fabrication of such scandals, cynically hoping to receive domestic or foreign dividends," it said. "After all, everyone has long known the price for such propaganda tricks of Tbilisi."

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