11 November, 2010

On suspicion of espionage Georgia detained another group of people. According to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, nine Georgians and four Russian citizens are suspected of spying for Russia. MIA representatives stated that the group consisting of several entrepreneurs, military pilots and a sailor, passed classified information to Russian intelligence services of Armed Forces. They supplied to the Russian GRU (Main Intelligence Department) data on flight schedules and military equipment of Georgia. Besides, they collected data on the Georgian security

officials and procurement in the Ministry of Defense and Interior Ministry of Georgia.
Over the past five years more than fifty people had been detained by Georgian counter-espionage bodies on similar charges. The most scandalous spy case was in 2006 when several Russian servicemen were detained. The scandal was followed by Russian sanctions against Georgia and anti-Georgian campaign – pressure on Georgian-run businesses in Russia, import ban on Georgian products, mass expulsion of Georgian citizens employed in Russia and mass deportation of Georgian immigrants from the country by cargo planes.
“As we understand, it refers to the citizens of Georgia, and we know nothing more about it,” – Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov commented on the recent spy scandal, while his deputy, Grigory Karasin called the case a “farce”.
The first official announcement about detainees came only after a week from the first report about the arrest of suspected spy ring members. On November 5 – birthday of Russian GRU – Georgian TV channel Rustavi-2 broadcast a documentary about the secret operation and described the case as a “total fiasco of Russian intelligence”. “Enveri”, the title of the movie, was the code name of special operation conducted by Georgian counterintelligence services and a nickname of the double agent, main figure of the 30-minute documentary.
The double agent with his hidden face in darkened room said he had served for the Soviet military intelligence in Georgian port of Poti in late 1980s. The former Soviet officer was selected by Georgian intelligence to plant him in Russian spy network. 
“I hesitated initially, but then I agreed, as I have always been in service of my homeland; at first it was the Soviet Union and then it was Georgia,” the double agent with code name ‘Enveri’ says in the movie.
He narrates that he contacted his “old acquaintances” in the Russian military intelligence and arranged a meeting in a Russian town close to the Ukrainian border, where he met with three operatives from Russian military intelligence – GRU – including one, named Sergey Akimov. The operatives instructed him how to use special spy hardware and software appliances for exchange of encrypted information. After three days of extensive training, the double agent met with Yuri Zhilin, referred to as chief GRU operative in Russia’s Krasnodar region.
After that, according to the documentary, the double agent was regularly exchanging messages with GRU in the form of encrypted texts, images and music files mainly via e-mail. Encoding of such files required multiple passwords and software. In the process it also became possible to identify dozens of other Georgian citizens working for the Russian intelligence and in addition at least one GRU liaison officer was also identified – Yuri Skrilnikov, a Russian citizen.
The movie shows that Skrilnikov arrived in Georgia in May, 2010 to meet with the double agent, but he was detained by the Georgian counterintelligence; another Russian and one Georgian citizens were also arrested together with him – all of them had been working for the Russian military unit based in Batumi before it was finally closed in November, 2007.
According to the double agent, his Russian minders were “extremely interested” in information regarding the western warships’ port calls in Georgia, training courses carried out by Georgia’s western partners for the Georgian military forces, defense plan of the ports, structure of Georgian infantry and their location.
In the documentary, a pilot of the Mi-8 army helicopter, who is among six Georgian military pilots charged with spying, says that during the August, 2008 war he informed his Russian bosses that Georgian helicopters were probably hidden in Borjomi gorge. He said the fire, which broke out in the gorge, destroying over 200 hectares of forest, was probably the result of the information he transferred to the Russian intelligence.
Obviously, the movie irritated Russian officials. Some said it was a well-produced play, specially directed for GRU’s birthday; others dubbed the fact as a farce before the NATO’s forthcoming Lisbon Summit. As for Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of International Affairs’ Committee of Russian Duma, he openly and directly threatened Georgia declaring: “This is a very serious situation and those, who have started this provocation in Georgia, should clearly understand and know that Russia will not leave its citizens in trouble. People with no links to the special services have been arrested. I would like to recall words of the President of the Russian Federation, who has said frequently that Russia will always protect its citizens everywhere with all available means at its hands.”
Later, on November 9, Russia sent an official note to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia via Switzerland demanding full information on personal data of four Russian citizens detained by Georgian counterintelligence. Obviously, Moscow intends to check whether there are actually Russian citizens among the detainees.
While in Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry was preparing the note addressed to Georgia, in Tbilisi President Saakashvili was visiting the Georgian MIA where he awarded the participants of operation “Enveri” with the Orders of Vakhtang Gorgasali. At the meeting Georgian President expressed desire to stabilize and improve relations with Russia and said he was ready for a dialogue with Moscow without any preconditions and added that Georgia will remain “vigilant”
Meanwhile, Georgia’s counter-intelligence unit reiterates the authorities guarantee amnesty for those who will voluntarily report about their links with foreign intelligence services. According to the MIA, in 2006, after detention of four Russian military officers on espionage charges, several Georgian citizens confessed of having connections with Russian intelligence. At that time the authorities promised amnesty for those who would voluntarily report about their links with any foreign intelligence bodies.
We remember Russia’s sanctions and anti-Georgian campaign of 2006. Let’s see how Russia will react to the new spy ring exposure and total failure of its intelligence service and how it will try to whitewash its image.