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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 October 2006, 00:35 GMT 01:35 UK
Moscow maintains Georgia blockade
Georgian police escort the Russian officers to be transferred
The Russians were accused of spying on military installations
Russia is pressing ahead with a freeze on vital transport and economic links with Georgia, despite the release of four men accused of spying for Moscow.

Russia's move to suspend transport and postal links and block bank transfers on Monday followed the arrest of four of its officers in Georgia last week.

The four men were released and returned to Moscow on Monday, to be greeted by Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Moscow denies the spying charge. Georgia accuses Russia of bullying.

The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, has described Georgia's actions as state terrorism.

In Moscow, Mr Ivanov personally welcomed the returning officials.

"I thank you for your courage and the honour, characteristic of Russian officers, that you displayed," Interfax news agency quotes him as saying.

The US has meanwhile urged both Russia and Georgia to ease tensions.

"This is a moment, we hope, with the Russians returned, for Russia and Georgia to step back, lower the rhetoric and hopefully work together," a state department official said.

Sanctions decision

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

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

Mikhail Saakashvili said the release was a goodwill gesture, but insisted that the men were organising a spying network.

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.

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.

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

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.

Economic weapon

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have deteriorated sharply since 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.

How the 'spy' row has escalated

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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