Soldier Who Defected Says He Is No Traitor

ReutersServiceman Alexander Glukhov eating at a McDonald's in Tbilisi on Tuesday.
A Russian soldier who deserted and is seeking political asylum in Georgia said Wednesday that his decision was not politically motivated and that he does not consider himself a traitor.

In an interview broadcast on Ekho Moskvy radio, the soldier, Alexander Glukhov, reiterated that he deserted his unit in the rebel republic of South Ossetia of his own accord.

"I left myself. No one forced me," Glukhov said, adding that Georgia had promised to help him find work and an apartment in Tbilisi.

Glukhov appeared on Georgian television Tuesday saying he had decided to defect because of what he said were unbearable conditions in the Russian army.

Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia in August over South Ossetia, maintained Wednesday that Glukhov had been abducted by Georgian forces. Igor Konashenkov, aide to the commander of the Russian military's ground forces, described Georgia's actions as "an obstacle to the return of a Russian soldier to the motherland," Interfax reported.

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said Wednesday that Glukhov would not be returned because "they would just make him rot in jail" in Russia, Interfax reported.

The Swiss ambassador to Georgia, who represents Russia in the country, was expected to meet Glukhov on Wednesday, Vashadze told reporters, Interfax reported.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Swiss Embassy saying that Glukhov was in normal health and is protected by international conventions, Interfax reported.

The Swiss Embassy plans to refer the question of Glukhov's future to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Georgia Online reported.

Glukhov has spoken by telephone with his parents, who have been invited to visit him in Georgia, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its web site Wednesday.

Glukhov said on Georgian television that he began serving in the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali in June. "These words of the Russian serviceman provide [more] ample evidence that Russia launched its military aggression against Georgia long before August," the statement said.

Russian forces crushed Georgia's attempt to retake the rebel region by force in August, and Moscow went on to recognize South Ossetia and another breakaway republic, Abkhazia, as independent states.

The Russian media, meanwhile, cast doubts on Gluhkhov's motives for defecting.

Citing army sources, Vremya Novostei reported Wednesday that Glukhov applied last year to continue his service on a contract basis.

He was involved in "non-criminal business" with Georgians, who could have "turned Georgian special forces on him," the newspaper reported, citing army sources.

Glukhov had four months left to serve, Konashenkov said, Interfax reported.

"I just can't believe that he ran over to the enemy because of bad conditions," Glukhov's mother, Galina Glukhova, told Komsomolskaya Pravda.

KP posted a video in which Glukhova appealed to Georgia to "let go" of her son.