Officer Accused of Spying for Georgia

A senior Russian army officer has been arrested in the Stavropol region on suspicion of spying for Georgia, authorities said Wednesday.

Mikhail Khachidze, an ethnic Georgian, was recruited by Georgian intelligence late last year while he was stationed in a unit based on Georgian territory, according to a statement issued by the Federal Security Service, or FSB.

Khachidze is accused of gathering secret information for Georgia about his fellow servicemen and the preparedness of Russian troops, the statement said.

The announcement came on the heels of Russia's bloody conflict with Georgia over the breakaway Georgian republic of South Ossetia and a day after the FSB said Georgia was planning terrorist acts on Russian territory.

Khachidze is being investigated on charges of high treason, which is punishable by up to life in prison. His exact rank was not indicated in the statement, which identified him only as "a senior army officer." Video footage of his detention was shown repeatedly on national television Wednesday. Three men in police uniforms were shown struggling to hold the suspect face down on a sidewalk as cars passed by. The timer on the video read Aug. 13. News of Khachidze's arrest came a day after FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov told the National Anti-Terrorist Committee that Georgian intelligence was planning terrorist attacks in the North Caucasus.

A senior Russian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that Georgian security services were trying to establish contacts with separatist leaders in a North Caucasus republic in order to destabilize the situation there, RIA-Novosti reported.

Four days after the armed conflict between Georgia and Russia erupted over South Ossetia on Aug. 7, Bortnikov told President Dmitry Medvedev that the FSB had arrested 10 Georgian spies, including a senior operative who coordinated the spy network. One of them, Bortnikov said, was a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army. The suspect, who was identified only by his last name, Imerdishvili, is accused of gathering classified military intelligence and identifying potential recruits among Russian servicemen. Georgian officials have denied any involvement in espionage or terrorist activities on Russian territory.

"This is the biggest disclosure of a spy network in Russia in many years and the first time that Georgians are involved," said Andrei Soldatov, an expert on Russia's security services and head of the Agentura think tank.

In 2006, Georgia arrested several Russian military officers it accused of being spies, causing a diplomatic spat that prompted Moscow to sever transportation and trade ties to Georgia.