Army Urges Fugitive Soldier to Leave Georgia

A Russian soldier who embarrassed commanders by disappearing from his unit and turning up in Georgia will not be punished if he gives himself up, the Russian military said Monday.

Sergeant Alexander Glukhov disappeared last month from his unit in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia and said he wanted asylum in Tbilisi, angering Moscow and handing a public relations coup to Georgia's pro-Western government.

Georgia and Russia fought a war last year over the separatist region. Tbilisi's forces tried to retake South Ossetia, unleashing a massive counterattack by Russian troops.

"Russia's military command has no disciplinary complaints against Sergeant Glukhov, and if he returns to Russia he will continue his service but in a different unit," said Colonel Igor Konashenkov, aide to the commander of Russia's Ground Forces.

Georgia paraded the 21-year-old sergeant in January, shortly after he disappeared from his unit in South Ossetia.

Dressed in jeans and trainers and eating a Big Mac hamburger, Glukhov said in an interview in a McDonald's outlet in Tbilisi last month that he had asked for asylum in Georgia, saying conditions with Russian forces in South Ossetia were unbearable.

The Russian Army had earlier accused Georgia of blocking Glukhov's return, saying he could face prosecution as a deserter.

Konashenkov said Glukhov's mother had arrived in South Ossetia's capital, Tskhinvali, on Monday after meeting the commander of the 58th Army, to which his unit belongs.

"She said she is afraid to go to Tbilisi, and therefore she asked the Russian military to help organize a meeting with her son either in no-man's land or in a Georgian locality that is close to South Ossetia," he said.

He said the Russian military has offered to arrange such a meeting in the Georgian village of Eredvi, near South Ossetia, but had so far received no reply from Tbilisi.