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Georgia to Transfer Custody of Four Captured Russian Officers


Georgia has announced that it will transfer four detained Russian military officers to the custody of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The four men have been the center of an increasingly bitter stand-off between the two countries.

Georgian officials say the four men will be "transferred to the care" of the OSCE just under a week after they were arrested and accused of being Russian spies.

Custody of the four men will be transferred to Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht because he currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the trans-Atlantic security organization.

De Gucht is one of many international diplomats who have been trying to end the tense stand-off between Russia and Georgia since the men were detained. But it remains unclear if the move will defuse the bitter war of words between the two former Soviet republics.

Earlier, Russia indicated it plans to sever all transport and postal links with its southern neighbor.

Moscow had already placed its troops in Georgia on a state of high alert and evacuated personnel from its embassy.

On Sunday, President Vladimir Putin described Georgia as a "bandit state".

Speaking on Russian television, Mr. Putin also said Georgian authorities were acting on behalf of "foreign sponsors", whom he did not specify.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili dismissed this idea, saying his government made decisions based on what was best for Georgia and not other countries.

Russia had long been angered by Mr. Saakashvili's stated aim of having Georgia join the NATO military alliance. The U.S.-educated president has also sought to implement policies that are drawing Georgia closer to the West.

Earlier this year, Russia banned the import of all Georgian wines and mineral water, its primary exports.

While officially the ban was due to health concerns, many analysts say it was punishment for the country's current political course.