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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Russia-Georgia media war escalates
Grab from the footage broadcast on by Georgian TV
Secret footage showed cash changing hands

As the crisis mounts between Russia and Georgia over spying charges, both countries' media are playing a role in stoking tensions.

Georgia has arrested four Russian army officers and 11 Georgians, accusing them of spying for Russia's GRU military intelligence.

The incident comes against a backdrop of tension over two pro-Russian separatist regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

A Georgian interior ministry video allegedly showing Russian officers conspiring with Georgians and exchanging money made headlines in both countries' television news bulletins.

But the media in both countries gave the grainy pictures and sound recordings an entirely different spin.

'Doubtful authenticity'

Georgian Imedi TV ran the full eight-minute compilation of video and audio recordings, saying this was firm evidence of Russian military intelligence activity in Georgia.

It was difficult to say what illegal action was being committed
Channel One TV, Russia

It included secretly recorded footage of suspected agents meeting their handlers, money changing hands and audio recordings of telephone conversations between the spy suspects.

Russian television channels showed selected excerpts and allowed TV commentators to belittle their importance.

The late-night news on Russia TV International said the video clips showed the servicemen "in various situations... for example in a cafe with a glass of Georgian wine. The authenticity of this evidence is doubtful, to put it mildly."

Channel One TV said that from the audio evidence, it "was difficult to say what illegal action was being committed".

All week one Georgian television station has been repeatedly showing a short film telling a fictional story of reconciliation between ethnic Georgians and South Ossetians after a failed attempt by Russian peacekeepers to instigate conflict.

The five-minute film, accompanied by emotional music, tells the story of an Ossetian rebel's sister engaged to a Georgian officer.

The two eventually marry amid scenes of Georgians and Ossetians feasting together, while a Russian officer looks on in disgust.

Nato question

Russia's state TV channels and NTV led with the crisis in their evening news bulletins and all featured Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov's advice to Russians in Georgia to stay at home because "banditry in Georgia has reached state proportions".

It is not at all impossible that the issue of releasing the officers and sending them to Russia will become a bargaining chip between the United States and Russia
Alia newspaper, Georgia

On Russia TV, Mr Ivanov likened the current situation in Georgia to 1937, the year of Stalin's purges, while Channel One quoted him as saying that the incident was aimed at discrediting Russia's peacekeepers and ultimately forcing them out of Georgia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov laid the blame squarely at Georgia's door. He told independent Ren TV that Georgia was "probably" attempting to provoke a more serious conflict to bolster its plans to solve the crisis of its separatist regions by force.

Some Russian newspapers were furious with the Georgians. "No-one should dare to trample on the dignity of a defender of the fatherland. The Russian commander-in-chief and defence ministry should firmly declare that such infringements cannot go unpunished," said Moskovskiye Novosti, a liberal weekly.

In Georgia, the newspaper Alia suggested the US secret services may have helped the Georgians arrest the Russians.

"It is not at all impossible that the issue of releasing the officers and sending them to Russia will become a bargaining chip between the United States and Russia," it said.

Russia's Kommersant daily speculated that delays in Georgia winning Nato membership had prompted Tbilisi to spark the crisis.

"It seems Tbilisi has taken the start of 'intensive dialogue' with Nato as a carte blanche for increasingly active anti-Russian moves. It seems that since yesterday Russia has also finally made up its mind - it will achieve a change in the current regime in Georgia at any price."

BBC Monitoring selects and translates news from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages. It is based in Caversham, UK, and has several bureaux abroad.




SEE ALSO
Russia-Georgia tensions rise
28 Sep 06 |  Europe
The press in Russia
16 Nov 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Russia
05 Sep 06 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
06 Sep 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Georgia
29 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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