Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton questioned her Russian counterpart twice in recent months about reports of the Moscow government’s involvement in the bombing attempt on the U.S. Embassy in Georgia in September.
Mrs. Clinton raised the Sept. 22 incident in February on the sidelines of an international security conference in Munich during talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to four U.S. officials.
At the meeting Feb. 5, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lavrov signed the New START arms pact, which President Obama has said is the centerpiece of his administration’s new “reset” policy of seeking closer ties with Russia.
However, the officials said that despite the issue having been raised in Munich, Russian GRU Maj. Yevgeny Borisov, who the Georgian Interior Ministry and a CIA-authored report have said is behind a spate of bombings in Georgia, continues to operate from a base in the breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia.
The National Intelligence Council, the analytical arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, provided Congress on Thursday with a new analysis of the blast. One administration official told The Washington Times there was “no consensus” on responsibility for the Tbilisi blast.
The new analysis followed disclosure by The Times on July 22 of a Russian government link to the attempted bombing that was based on a Georgian government probe and a CIA study.
Mrs. Clinton brought up the bombing a second time on July 13, the same day she and Mr. Lavrov signed a new U.S. agreement on child adoptions.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner declined to comment on the discussions. “We can’t get into the substance of our diplomatic exchanges with any other country,” he said. “We do discuss with all parties in the region issues affecting regional security and stability. I am not going to get into specifics.”
In an interview Thursday, Shota Utiashvili, director of information and analysis for the Georgian Interior Ministry, revealed that Maj. Borisov remains in Abkhazia.
Some U.S. intelligence officials complained that the U.S. reaction to the possible state-sponsored terrorism has been too weak. “The fact that this GRU major is still at large in Abkhazia should tell you all you need to know about how effective our response has been,” one U.S. intelligence official said.
Normally, intelligence officers who are exposed by another government are recalled home and their careers are cut short.
Russian officials have denied the charges and accused Georgia of trying to foment a propaganda campaign by pinning the embassy blast on their military intelligence service.
“It looks like the aim of the publication in The Washington Times is to trigger a second propaganda wave around issues that have already been discussed with American and Georgian representatives at the beginning of this year,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
David Smith, chief negotiator during defense and space talks with the Soviet Union during the George H.W. Bush administration said Russia’s motivation for such activities is “fairly clear.”
“Part of the reason they do these things is precisely because it is not clear to Westerners why they would do them,” he said. “They are out to destabilize Georgia. They are out to make it look like it is a chaotic and lawless place.”
Mr. Smith is director of the Georgian Security Analysis Center in Tbilisi, a think tank that does some consulting work for the Georgian government.
On Dec. 4, Georgia’s government detained Gogita Arkania, a man they charge was the ringleader of the bombing attempt on the U.S. Embassy. In July, the Georgian Interior Ministry posted a video confession by Mr. Arkania claiming that he had placed one bomb at the wall of a parking lot adjacent to the U.S. Embassy compound. He said he threw a second bomb over that wall that did not detonate. He also said he was recruited by Mr. Borisov to conduct the bombing.
“We suspect the fuse was programmed that it would explode if it was picked up,” Mr. Utiashvili said. “But we aren’t sure because it was destroyed by the water cannon.”
Human rights groups have long frowned upon televised or publicized confessions in anti-terrorism cases.
“As a general rule, we are uncomfortable with televised confessions,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “They are so often obtained in an inherently coercive context. They can make it much harder for defendants to have a fair trial.”
Mr. Malinowksi said he had no particular knowledge that Mr. Arkania’s confession was coerced.
Mr. Utiashvili, however, said it was common for the Interior Ministry to post on the Internet such video confessions. “They have access to lawyers, the Red Cross and the public defender’s office,” he said. “Each of them had a number of highly paid lawyers.”
Mr. Arkania has yet to stand trial.
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