Georgia praises Russian 'spy ring' discovery

By Tom Esslemont
BBC News, Tbilisi

Image caption,
Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in August 2008 over South Ossetia

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has praised the work of his country's security services after they exposed an alleged Russian spy ring.

In a BBC interview, he said the case revealed Russian intelligence was in bad shape and suggested it reform.

The Georgian interior ministry said on Friday it had arrested 13 suspects.

Moscow accuses Georgia of orchestrating a "blatant" provocation by choosing to make the announcement ahead of two world summits Russia is due to attend.

After Georgia and Russia went to war in 2008, it seemed as if relations between the two sides could not get any worse.

But Friday's exposure of a new spy ring in Georgia has angered Russia and set the small country and its former colonial master on an uncertain path.

In a BBC interview, Mr Saakashvili appeared to defend the move to expose the network even though the timing upset Moscow; it came days before Russia attends a Nato summit in Portugal.

But in his words at least, he suggested Russia and Georgia renew relations because Moscow had already overplayed its hand in the region.

"They've done all the damage they could have inflicted on us. So right now, I don't think things can get any worse. From this point on, from this lowest point, hopefully things can get better. But that doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to subversion, spies, provocation, and we'd better react to it."

Mr Saakashvili went on to say that the Russian government apparatus, including what he called its "intelligence community", was not in a good shape and advised them to send its people to learn about how Georgia had reformed its own institutions.

It was a game of one-upmanship, with the Georgian president in triumphant mood.

The Kremlin has yet to deliver an official reaction to the spy scandal.

But the indications are that, in spite of Mr Saakshvili's jovial language, things between them are not about to get better in a hurry.

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