By Emil Danielyan and Hovannes Shoghikian
Armenia distanced itself Thursday from the latest upsurge in Russian-Georgian tensions that has been triggered by the arrest of a group of Russian military officers for alleged spying which Georgia says was coordinated by Russian intelligence agents in Yerevan.
Georgian authorities said on Wednesday that they detained four GRU (Russian military intelligence) officers as well as 11 Georgian citizens suspected of involvement in an alleged Russian plot against the pro-Western government in Tbilisi. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said they “acted under the leadership from Yerevan” of a top GRU officer whom he identified as Anatoly Sinitsyn.
Moscow angrily rejected the accusations, demanding an immediate release of its citizens. Reuters reported that Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov denounced as a "complete outrage" Georgia's action which he said had also included the beating of a Russian officer and six soldiers in a separate incident in the Black Sea port of Batumi.
Officials in Yerevan insisted that Armenia, Russia’s main regional ally, bears no responsibility for the acrimonious scandal. “We have nothing to do with that,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, told RFE/RL.
Colonel-General Mikael, the Armenian chief of staff, echoed the statement, urging journalists not to “jump into conclusions.” He also dismissed as irrelevant the fact that four of the arrested Georgian nationals are reportedly ethnic Armenians.
“They are citizens of Georgia, and I think authorities in Georgia will clear things up,” said Harutiunian. “I think we will be able to say something concrete about this issue after finally understanding what the matter is. It is too premature to comment now.”
Asked about the Georgian claims that the alleged Russian espionage was guided from Armenian territory, Harutiunian replied: “They can say anything. What they say is their business. But there has to be evidence.”
Other Armenian officials argued that Yerevan has no control over the happenings inside Russia’s diplomatic missions and military base in Armenia. None of the diplomats at Russian embassy in Yerevan that bears the name Anatoly Sinitsyn, an embassy spokeswoman told RFE/RL.
Merabishvili would not say if Tbilisi will raise the issue with Yerevan, and the Georgian embassy in Armenia declined a comment. According to Karapetian, the Armenian government has received no diplomatic notes or other messages from the Georgian side in connection with the affair.
(Photolur photo: Mikael Harutiunian.)