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Russia's foreign minister continued to put pressure on Georgia Tuesday in the wake of an alleged espionage scandal
Russia's foreign minister continued to put pressure on Georgia Tuesday in the wake of an alleged espionage scandal, saying the government in the South Caucasus state has been consistently conducting an anti-Russian policy. Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi in the last three years have been strained over the status of Russian peacekeepers and military bases since West-leaning Mikheil Saakashvili came to power on the back of the 2003 "rose revolution." But they hit a new low last week, when four Russian officers were charged with spying. "The actions of the Georgian leadership have unquestionably become consistently anti-Russian," Sergei Lavrov told a news conference, adding that the spying row was yet another facet of this policy. "The officers' [case] is not even the culmination, but a reflection of the policy conducted by the Georgian leadership, which is looking to attract attention to Russia's interfering with Georgian affairs," Lavrov said. The Georgian government has repeatedly accused Russian peacekeepers based in conflict zones with two breakaway regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia - of supporting the rebellious territories and meddling in the country's internal affairs. Russian reacted to the spying scandal on Monday by suspending transport and mail links with Georgia, which could hit the Georgian economy hard because many Georgians come to Russia in search of work to maintain their families in their homeland. And Lavrov said Georgia's authorities had to realize they could not insult Russia while thousands of Georgian citizens worked in the country. On Monday, Vyacheslav Volodin, a deputy speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, said more than 300,000 Georgians worked in Russia. "The Russian capital gives them the opportunity to work and resolve their living problems," he said. "And this is despite only 0.7% of them having the official registration documents required to work in Russia." Volodin added that the Georgian diaspora in Russia transferred huge amounts of money from Russia to support their families in Georgia. The Central Bank of Russia said last week that money transfers from Russia to Georgia made up about 4% of Georgia's GDP. Lavrov said the Russian sanctions against Georgia, including the suspension of transport and mail links with the former Soviet republic, aimed to stop illegal capital flows that are ultimately used for militarization of the south Caucasus republic. "We cannot tolerate [a situation when] illegal capital flows feed a regime which, speculating on the needs of its citizens, seeks militarization to satisfy its own interests that do not have anything in common with interests of the Georgian people," the foreign minister said. But he did say that the Russian government would do everything possible to ensure that law-abiding Georgians were not affected by the measures. Although fears that hostilities might break out between the two former Soviet stable mates have ebbed somewhat since Georgia released the officers Monday evening, Russia's has maintained its tough stance. Andrei Kokoshin, a senior member of the lower chamber of parliament, said Tuesday the State Duma viewed Tbilisi's policy as "state terrorism", following earlier pronouncements made by the defense minister and President Vladimir Putin that compared the Georgian government's actions with Stalin's regime. Lavrov also said the situation had failed to normalize after Georgia's decision to release on the Russian officers. "We do not want things to be as they were before, because everything was very bad," he said. "In addition to military preparations, in addition to obvious preparations to seize South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force - and such attempts were already made in the summer of 2004 - in this context, continuous anti-Russian rhetoric and insults at the highest level, including personal insults, to the effect that Georgia is surrounded by enemies, cannot possibly be ignored." "It is outrageous when such rhetoric comes from the leadership. We will not tolerate this," the minister said.
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