TBILISI, Georgia – Georgia arrested six people suspected of being agents for Russia and accused them of staging a series of explosions, including one outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital, officials said Tuesday.
Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze said the suspects had been recruited by the Russian military. A series of spy flaps has aggravated tense relations between the two former Soviet republics, which fought a brief but bitter war in 2008.
Zguladze said the six, four men and two women, are accused of staging an explosion outside the U.S. Embassy in September, that caused no injuries, and several other blasts, including last month's blast outside the Labor Party's offices in Tbilisi that killed a woman.
Speaking in a televised statement Tuesday, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili praised the Interior Ministry for the bust. "We have managed to prevent very serious terror attacks," he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry made no immediate comment. The Georgian authorities' announcement last month of the arrests of 13 suspected Russian spies drew an angry statement from Moscow, which fumed about Saakashvili's "chronic spy mania."
Zguladze said that the suspects, all of them Georgian citizens, were arrested over the weekend. She said authorities had confiscated explosives and weapons during searches at their homes.
Zguladze said that two other suspected members of the group were hiding in Georgia's Russia-backed breakaway province of Abkhazia.
The Interior Ministry also produced a tape in which the suspected ringleader, Gogita Arkania, tells how he had been recruited by a Russian military officer. Arkania said on the tape that the officer threatened his family to force him into cooperation and gave him detailed instructions on how to stage the explosions.
Zguladze said that Arkania called his Russian handler to report after every explosion.
In a separate move, the Georgian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday protested the deployment of Russian Smerch rocket launchers on the territory of another Moscow-backed breakaway Georgian province, South Ossetia. It said the move underlined Russia's aggressive intentions and threatened stability in the region.
After the 2008 war, Russia recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent and has kept troops there. Georgia says the Russian military presence amounts to Russian occupation.