Police Raid Georgian Businesses

MTRoin Konjaria, left, and David Kapiashvili reflecting on Tuesday on the impact of Russia's blockade of Georgia.
Moscow law enforcement agents raided Georgian businesses in the city on Tuesday, closing a hotel and a casino, and confiscating alcohol as the federal government severed all transport links with Georgia.

Officers from the police's economic crimes unit shut down Kristall, a popular Moscow casino, claiming that it was controlled by the Georgian mob. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that dozens of the casino's gambling tables and hundreds of slot machines had not been registered with the authorities.

Moscow police also announced the seizure of a half-million bottles of Georgian wine on Tuesday. The import of Georgian wines was banned earlier this year after Russia's top health inspector announced they were unsafe.

Police have been posted outside the Georgian Embassy in Moscow since Sept. 29, when picketing youths hurled a pig's head through an embassy window. The sidewalk in front of the embassy was strewn with broken eggs, one containing a large chicken embryo.

Police also raided the Georgian Embassy's guest house in the city center, claiming that it was being run illegally and that the building in fact belonged to the state-owned Melodiya music company.

Georgians living in Moscow said they were outraged by Russia's blockade of Georgia. But most of all they regret the disintegration of the traditional friendship between the two countries.

"The authorities are basically pushing us into the arms of NATO and the United States," said Roin Konjaria, vice president of Moscow Georgian Community, a social and educational organization.

The two countries would enjoy a great relationship if Russia could just get used to the idea that Georgia is an independent state, Konjaria said.

Konjaria said that by severing transport links to Georgia and threatening to clamp down on wire transfers, Russia would simply prompt Georgians to find alternatives.

Konjaria said he had lived in Moscow for more than 20 years and that his relatives in Tbilisi had been calling him all day Tuesday. He estimated there were at most 150,000 to 200,000 Georgians in Moscow and about 500,000 in all of Russia.

David Kapiashvili, a Moscow-based artist, said he had just wired some money to his daughter in Tbilisi and was warned at the bank that he might have trouble the next time around.

"Even if it's true about the spies, why should a child who needs new sneakers suffer?" he said.

Yekaterina Nizharadze, a Russian citizen with family in Georgia, said she worried about not being able to send money to her relatives.

"A lot of people who work here help their relatives -- both Russian and Georgian citizens," she said. "It would be terrible if they could no longer do so."

Anna Shukhayeva, a former Muscovite who has lived in Tbilisi for the past year, said by telephone from Georgia that the closing of transport links meant her relatives could not send her things from home which she had asked for.

"This affects every Georgian," said Joni Kvaratskhelia, head of the Lazare youth organization in Moscow. "We're having unfriendly relations with Russia, yet we have a lot of Russian friends. It's uncomfortable to view one another as enemies."

Kvaratskhelia said the organization had received numerous calls from Georgians in Moscow looking for advice.

"We tell them that it's a temporary situation and that everything will settle down in 10 days tops," he said.

Despite press reports that Moscow police had stepped up harassment of Georgians on the street, Kvaratskhelia and Konjaria said they had not noticed any change.