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Russia, Georgia Exchange Accusations as Tensions Mount


Russia and Georgia are trading accusations, as the crisis sparked by Georgia's arrest of four Russians last week shows no sign of ending. The international community is calling on both sides to overcome their differences before things spiral out of control.

Relations between Russia and its southern neighbor Georgia have long been tense. But things have reached a new low in the past several days, after the arrest Wednesday of four Russians, Georgia accused of spying.

Russian President Vladimir Putin likened Georgia's leadership to that of dictator Joseph Stalin's secret police, the latest escalation in an increasingly bitter war of words between the two countries.

Saturday, Russia announced it would halt the gradual withdrawal of its troops from Soviet-era bases in Georgia, saying they may be needed to respond to the deteriorating security situation.

Moscow also ordered the immediate evacuation of personnel from its embassy in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, saying they were no longer safe in the Caucasus Mountain republic.

Vasily Kochmar is an adviser to the Russian ambassador at the embassy in Tbilisi.

He rejects accusations from the Georgian leadership that Russian troops stationed in Georgia had created provocations against their counterparts there.

The crisis began last Wednesday when Georgia arrested four Russian officers and accused them of spying. Georgian police formed a cordon around a Russian military facility in Tbilisi, while state television aired video clips showing the Russians meeting with Georgian contacts.

Friday, a Georgia court ordered the men be held for two months pending the results of an investigation, although Georgia's defense minister also said he did not rule out allowing the four to return to Russia.

This did little to calm the storm, as Russia called for a U.N Security Council meeting to discuss the case.

Senior officials abroad, including the United States, have telephoned Georgia's West-leaning President Mikhail Saakashvili urging calm.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have steadily worsened since Mr. Saakashvili came to power in the so-called Rose Revolution three years ago.

The U.S.-educated Georgian leader has long talked of having Georgia enter NATO, something that has angered Russia.

The two countries are also at loggerheads over the future of two separatist regions in Georgia that have long received financial and political support from Russia.

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