Soldier Seeking Asylum Denies Political Motive

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 with 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 army.

The Russian military, which crushed Georgia's attempt to retake South Ossetia in a brief war in August, ordered Glukhov on Wednesday to return to Russia or face prosecution.

"It is self-evident that actions by Georgian authorities are the main obstacle for the Russian military serviceman's return to his motherland. ... Such actions push the Russian army's soldier to commit a criminal offense -- desertion," Igor Konashenkov, aide to the commander of the ground forces, said in a statement.

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said Glukhov would not go home because "they would just make him rot in jail" in Russia, Interfax reported.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry sent a note to the Swiss Embassy, which represents Russia in the country, saying 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.

The statement also pointed to remarks by Glukhov on Georgian television that he began serving in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, in June. "These words ... provide ample evidence that Russia launched its military aggression against Georgia long before August," it said.

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 "noncriminal business" with Georgians, who could have "turned Georgian special forces on him," the report said, citing army sources.

Glukhov had four months left to serve, Konashenkov said.

"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.