In the latest in an ongoing series of revelations about supposed Russian covert operations in Georgia, officials in Tbilisi are linking a Russian military officer to a recent string of attempted bombings.
The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs on December 7 released a videotaped confession of six detainees suspected of plotting and carrying out five bombing attacks. Those attacks, carried out over the past three months, left one person dead and caused infrastructure damage.
In the tapes, key suspect Gogita Arkania, a resident of the predominantly ethnic Georgian region of Gali in breakaway Abkhazia, claims he was recruited by an Abkhazia-based Russian military officer, Maj. Yevgeniy Borisov, to conduct the attacks aimed to politically destabilize Georgia. Over Tbilisi’s objections, Russia maintains military bases in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, territories that Moscow has recognized as independent.
Among other tasks, Arkania alleges that Borisov instructed him to plant a bomb in a wall of the US Embassy in Tbilisi, and provided him with a satellite image of the embassy to facilitate the job. An explosion was reported October 22 near the US Embassy, causing no damage. EurasiaNet.org could not reach embassy personnel for further comment.
Arkania said he was forced to agree to plant the explosive devices after Borisov supposedly threatened to kill his family in Abkhazia. Why Borisov selected Arkania for the task was not stated; the two men allegedly met through an acquaintance, according to Arkania. Georgian police did not say how they became aware of Arkania’s alleged activities.
Arkania and his alleged accomplices told Georgian investigators that they were also behind two blasts on November 28 that went off near the Tbilisi offices of the opposition Labor Party. One elderly woman was killed in one of the explosions. The Labor Party, long critical of President Mikheil Saakashvili, has accused the government of orchestrating the attack.
Another alleged target was believed to be a railway bridge in the western part of the country, near the Black Sea port of Poti, not far from Abkhazia. An explosive device failed to explode at the site, due to a faulty detonator, according to the Georgian Interior Ministry. The device was discovered near the Chaladidi Bridge on October 7.
Georgia cites an October 2 call by a representative of the Russian military command in Abkhazia to the European Union Monitoring Mission to substantiate their assertion of Moscow’s involvement. The Russian representative, whose name was given as Lt. Col. Alexander Berchenko, reportedly called the EUMM on October 2 to ask about an explosion near the railway near Poti. Investigators argue that since the explosion never took place, Berchenko must have had prior knowledge about the attack.
EUMM spokesperson Steve Bird confirmed to EurasiaNet.org that his office did receive such an inquiry from Berchneko, but said that the EUMM cannot confirm the claims of Russian involvement in any of the explosions.
The Tbilisi railway station was the fifth alleged target for an explosion; security camera footage released on December 7 the depicts Arkania allegedly placing an explosive device in an underpass near the station.
Police also released video testimonies from two women, relatives of Arkania from the western city of Zugdidi, who said that Arkania had paid them $150 to store the explosive devices in their apartment, and offered an eventual $5,000 for the storage space.
The equipment allegedly included 13 explosive devices; nine of the devices contained RDX, a military-industrial explosive; four of the containers were filled with nails and one with bullets.
So far, however, Georgian government officials have avoided explicitly accusing Moscow of masterminding the attacks. “The Government of Georgia did not comment on any political ramifications of the arrests,” said a statement issued by Georgia’s Foreign Ministry.
Interior Deputy Minister Eka Zguladze asserted that Tbilisi has asked for Russian cooperation in the investigation. While also avoiding an explicit accusation, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili implied in a televised statement how he expected viewers to connect the dots. “All evidence available to the law enforcement officials indicates that these people operated from the occupied territories [Abkhazia and South Ossetia],” Saakashvili said in reference to the detainees. He thanked police for preventing “serious terror attacks.”
The December 7 arrests followed an offer by President Saakashvili to abstain from the use of force against separatist Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The leaders of both regions’ separatist governments also said on December 6 that they were also ready to commit themselves to the non-use of force.
Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili claims that the arrests helped prevent future attacks that could have caused multiple casualties.
Moscow has not yet officially responded to Tbilisi’s implied accusations, but in comments to Georgia’s pro-government television channel Rustavi2, some Russian officials dismissed the Georgian announcement as a propaganda stunt.
In November, Georgia broke up an alleged Russian spy ring that involved dozens individuals, both Georgian and Russian citizens, who are charged with having passed on Georgia’s military secrets to Moscow during and after the two countries’ 2008 war. Russia has denied the espionage accusation and demanded that Georgia release the detained Russian citizens.
Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.