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Russian President Warns Georgia Against Blackmail

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Georgia against using what he called "provocation and blackmail" in its dealing with Russia.

The crisis sparked by Georgia's arrest of four Russians on espionage charges a week ago shows no sign of fading, even though Georgia released the men on Monday.

President Putin continued his tough statements about Russia's southern neighbor in comments at a Kremlin meeting shown on state television.

Mr. Putin spoke as he met with leaders from the parliament, the Duma, to discuss the ongoing crisis with Georgia, which he has called a bandit state.

The president told the Duma leaders he was grateful for their support aimed at defending the rights, dignity and lives of our fellow citizens abroad.

This was a reference to new legislation that will broaden economic sanctions Russia has imposed that included cutting all transport and postal links with Georgia.

The Duma is likely to suspend banking links between the two countries, leaving up to one-million Georgians living in Russia unable to send money to relatives back home.

The hundreds of millions of dollars sent each year are a significant part of Georgia's gross domestic product.

Meanwhile, Russian police are carrying out an operation targeting Georgian businesses and the many immigrants who lack the proper visas to be in Russia.

Police have shut down a large Georgian-owned casino complex and made checks at hotels, restaurants, and other businesses run by Georgians.

Senior government officials in Georgia say the sanctions are not likely to have a serious impact on the economy.

They say the country has already learned to cope with an earlier Russian ban on all wines and mineral water, Georgia's main exports.

And travel companies are seeking to send passengers to and from Russia via neighboring states such as Ukraine or Azerbaijan.

The United States and European Union have both called for Russia to lift the sanctions, something rejected by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.