Georgia 'dismantles' Russian spy ring

Georgia says it has dismantled a major Russian spy ring, arresting 13 suspects, including four Russian citizens, who allegedly fed sensitive military information to Moscow.

Georgia said on Friday it has dismantled a major Russian spy ring and arrested 13 suspects, including four Russian citizens, who allegedly fed sensitive military information to Moscow.

Interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said the suspects, who included Georgian military officers, had been providing secret information on Georgia's military to the Russian military's foreign intelligence service, the GRU.

"This is a huge deal in terms of Georgia securing its military intelligence and a big blow to the GRU," Utiashvili said, adding that Georgian security services had managed to infiltrate the spy ring.

Georgia and Russia fought a brief war in August 2008 that saw Russian forces pour into the country to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake the Moscow-backed rebel region of South Ossetia.

Tensions between the two neighbours had been growing for years in the run-up to the war, including after the 2006 arrest of four Russian military officers on espionage charges. The four were eventually released and returned to Russia.

Media reports of the arrests surfaced last week but officials had refused to comment until Friday, which coincides with an annual day in Russia celebrating its military intelligence service.

Utiashvili said the spy ring was centred on Georgia's Black Sea region of Adjara, a former Moscow-backed rebel province that Tbilisi regained control of in 2004.

He said the Georgian suspects, who included military officers, helicopter pilots and local businessmen, had passed information on "military orders, the state of readiness and points of deployment" to Russian GRU operatives, including during the 2008 war.

"These Georgian officers were passing on military secrets to the Russian citizens who were in liaison with the GRU, in some cases taking the information physically to Russia," he said.

He said a Georgian security operative was able to infiltrate the group and obtain "all the security codes and the names of the people involved in the operation."

He said Georgian security services had obtained "encryption, decryption and security codes" that are regularly used by the GRU.

The interior ministry was to hold a press briefing later Friday and release more details.