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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FSB Busts 'Georgian Spy Ring' In Sochi

Channel OneMaisuradze
SOCHI, Krasnodar Region — A businessman running an Internet cafe in Sochi has been exposed as the leader of a Georgian spy ring, the Federal Security Service said Tuesday.

The suspect, identified as Ukrainian citizen Mamuka Maisuradze, has admitted to collecting information about the political situation in the region, including preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the FSB said in a statement carried by Interfax.

Channel One television broadcast footage of Maisuradze on its 9 p.m. news program that seemed to show him cooperating with FSB officials. The channel also showed a close-up of Maisuradze's Ukrainian passport.

An FSB spokesman declined to comment, saying information about the case had not been released by the agency's press office. He refused to elaborate.

The allegations come at the height of an unusually heated campaign for Sochi's mayoral election next Sunday.

It was unclear whether the purported spy was in custody or whether any charges had been brought against him. Nor was it clear when Maisuradze was detected.

The FSB statement said he had been declared persona non grata because his activities posed a real threat to Russia's defense capacities and security.

"His testimony confirms that Georgia attempted to set up a regional intelligence network," an unidentified FSB official told Interfax.

The statement said Maisuradze had provided the FSB with the names of Russian citizens who maintained contacts with Georgian intelligence.

It also said Georgia's foreign intelligence service had helped Maisuradze obtain Ukrainian citizenship and set up private businesses in Sochi, including an Internet cafe, through which he communicated with his superiors.

The Georgian government denied the accusation. Eka Tkeshelashvili, head of the country's Security Council, said the man had never served in Georgian intelligence. "I assume this is just a tit-for-tat arrest" after Georgia arrested four Russians in 2006 over spying allegations, she said, Bloomberg reported.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had no comment on the claim, a spokeswoman said by telephone from Kiev.

The FSB began watching the suspect in 2000 because of his alleged connections to leaders of separatist groups in Chechnya and other republics in the North Caucasus, Interfax reported.

The FSB said that before arriving in Sochi in 2007, Maisuradze held executive posts in Georgian government agencies where he maintained contacts with Chechen separatists, including former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, who was killed in a car bombing in Qatar in 2004. Qatar convicted two Russian intelligence officers in the slaying.

Meanwhile, Sochi's police chief warned that one of the six candidates running for mayor was planning to spread public unrest in the city.

"Plans for a series of provocations are being worked out in one of the candidates' campaign headquarters," police chief Alexander Birillo said late Monday, RIA-Novosti reported.

"People from other regions who have taken part in Dissenters' Marches and in the Orange Revolution are coming" to Sochi, he said.

Birillo did not identify the candidate, but the race now amounts to a showdown between United Russia's candidate, acting Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhmonov, and outspoken Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov.

Nemtsov responded to the allegations by claiming that they were directed against an election-observer mission that he and his supporters were organizing. "The real provocation is that we will have two or three observers at each polling station. They wanted to steal the votes, and we won't let them," he said at a rally of 150 to 200 people in Sochi on Tuesday evening.

Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution swept President Viktor Yushchenko to power. Nemtsov was a vocal Russian supporter of the upheaval, and he served as an adviser to Yuschenko after he took office in early 2005.

Russian-Ukrainian relations have been deeply troubled ever since, as have relations with Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia over its separatist province of South Ossetia last summer.

The Tuesday evening rally was called to oppose the forced evictions of residents for Olympic construction works.

Nemtsov said the authorities were afraid of him because he would fight the rampant corruption surrounding massive government spending for the Olympics.

He said that while the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver cost $2 billion, Sochi carried a price tag of $15 billion.

"They are afraid of me because they won't be able to steal. We won't let them have this money," he said.

Communist mayoral candidate Yury Dzagania and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov also addressed the crowd.

There was little indication of the upcoming election in Sochi on Tuesday, with no posters in the streets.

Maria Antonova wrote from Sochi. Nikolaus von Twickel contributed to this report from Moscow.