- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 4, 2006

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin told lawmakers yesterday that no country should get away with threatening Russia, setting the stage for passage of a motion fiercely condemning Georgia’s pro-Western leadership.

Georgian authorities arrested four Russian military officers last week, accusing them of espionage. Moscow responded with harsh measures Tuesday, slapping transportation and postal sanctions on Georgia, even though the four officers were released.

The Kremlin has refused to back down despite Western calls for an end to the punitive measures.

“I would not counsel anyone to talk to Russia in the language of provocations and blackmail,” Mr. Putin said, adding that he was speaking specifically about Georgia.

Lawmakers in Russia’s lower house of parliament, meanwhile, passed a resolution strongly condemning the Georgian government, accusing it of “anti-Russian” behavior and signaling “harsher measures” if the situation worsens.

Russian police targeted the large Georgian diaspora in Moscow with raids of businesses and restaurants.

Parliament was to vote later this week on a motion aimed at money sent home by Georgians — a move that would deal a huge blow to the struggling economy in Georgia, whose 4.4 million people rely heavily on the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual remittances sent back by the nearly 1 million Georgians living in Russia.

The moves appeared aimed at punishing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for defying Russia by arresting the officers. More broadly, Moscow has been alarmed by Georgia’s goal of joining NATO and the growing U.S. influence in Russia’s former Soviet back yard.

A State Department official said Washington continues to back Georgia’s aim to join NATO, despite Russia’s objections, and wants both countries to solve their dispute peacefully.

“We want to do what we can to keep the door to NATO open for Georgia,” said Mark Pekala, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian affairs.

Mr. Pekala told reporters in Tallinn, Estonia, that the United States wanted Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgia as agreed five years ago at a summit in Istanbul.

Russia has rejected Western calls to end the transportation and postal blockade, imposed despite Georgia’s release Monday of the Russian officers.

Authorities Tuesday closed two popular casinos run by Georgians in the Russian capital, saying the casino tables and slot machines did not have authorization. They also raided a hotel and two restaurants run by Georgians, saying they could be closed for legal violations.

The Kommersant daily quoted police officials as saying that 40 Georgian restaurants and shops in downtown Moscow would be raided in the next few days.

The Russian Consulate in Tbilisi, meanwhile, has stopped issuing visas to Georgians.

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