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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Georgia releases Russian 'spies'
Georgian police escort the Russian officers to be transferred
The Russians were accused of spying on military installations
Four Russian officers arrested as spies in Georgia in the worst row between the countries in years have returned to Moscow after being released.

They were handed over to the head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Karel De Gucht, before boarding a Russian plane.

Georgia's president said the transfer was not a response to Russian pressure.

As the men were being released, Moscow imposed economic sanctions, suspending transport and crucial postal links.

BBC regional analyst Steven Eke says the impact of the new measures is likely to be severe as thousands of Georgian guest workers will effectively be stranded in Russia, unable to send home the earnings so many of their families depend on.

It is unclear if the sanctions decision was taken before the handover of the officers, who were arrested last week, was announced.

'You are deported'

The officers were handed over to Mr De Gucht in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in a ceremony broadcast live on Georgian television.

Georgian police escort one of the Russian officers to court (30 September)
The message to our great neighbour Russia is: 'Enough is enough'
Mikhail Saakashvili
Georgian president

An unnamed official was shown reading out a statement telling them they were "accused of the crime of espionage against Georgia", were "being deported from Georgia" and were "as of now forbidden to enter Georgian territory".

Mr De Gucht has called for the restoration of transport and money transfer links.

Announcing the officers' transfer, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he wanted good relations with Russia, but Georgia could no longer be treated as a "the second-class backyard of... some kind of re-emerging empire".

Russia had been using intimidation and blackmail, he said, and he repeated his allegation that a Russian spy ring had been operating in Georgia.

"The message to our great neighbour Russia is: 'Enough is enough,'" he said.

Tense relations

On Friday, the four Russian officers were charged with spying and were ordered to be held for two months pending investigations.

Boy looks out bus window on way to Tbilisi airport
Russia has evacuated diplomats and other civilians from Georgia

Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by accusing Georgia of "state terrorism" and trying to provoke Moscow, which still has military bases in Georgia from Soviet times when it was part of the USSR.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi deteriorated sharply after Georgia and Nato agreed to hold talks on closer relations, correspondents say.

Georgia has also accused Russia of actively trying to undermine its government by backing separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moscow earlier recalled its ambassador and evacuated some of its staff in Georgia.

Our regional analyst notes that Georgia is already affected by a Russian ban on its top three agricultural exports - wine, mineral water and mandarin oranges.

But Mr Saakashvili, he adds, will also be aware that Russia has another, much more powerful economic weapon - energy supplies.

Georgia remains totally dependent on supplies of Russian gas and there are already warnings that heat and light could disappear from parts of Georgia unless the diplomatic crisis is resolved quickly.

The restrictions Russia has placed on Georgia

In pictures: Russia-Georgia crisis
02 Oct 06 |  In Pictures
Q&A: Russian-Georgian ties
29 Sep 06 |  Europe
Country profile: Georgia
06 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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