- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

MOSCOW — Russia deported scores of Georgians yesterday and ordered schools to provide lists of students with Georgian sounding names, prompting charges by Georgia’s top diplomat that Russia has begun a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in retaliation for a spying scandal.

Alexander Gavrilov, a spokesman for the Moscow City Hall’s education department, said some of the capital’s schools had received the request for children with Georgian names.

He criticized the police action, saying that all children, irrespective of nationality or religion, had an equal right to education.

“If the law-enforcement bodies carry out work searching for illegal migrants, it’s their business and there is no way schools must be involved in this process,” the official said.

Police denied they had made such a request.

Russia deported 132 Georgian citizens on a plane from Moscow after detaining them as illegal aliens, Emergency Situations Ministry spokesman Viktor Beltsov said. His ministry, which is flying Russians out of Georgia, was charged with organizing the deportation flight.

The two countries have been locked in a bitter dispute since the arrest last week of four Russian officers on charges of spying. Despite their release, Moscow has imposed a range of punitive sanctions on its small southern neighbor as well as launching a crackdown on Georgian immigrants and businesses in Russia.

“What Russia is doing … is a soft form of ethnic cleansing,” said Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, the Reuters news agency reported.

Nina Zubareva, an official from school No. 1289 in northern Moscow, said the local police station telephoned and demanded a list of pupils with Georgian surnames.

“There are very few pupils with Georgian surnames in our school and we have honored the police request. I must say that our pupils are Russian citizens and have Moscow registration. Their families have been living in Moscow for years,” she said.

Several dozen Georgians crowded in front of their country’s consulate in central Moscow, many seeking help in returning home after Russia on Tuesday severed all air, sea, road, rail and postal links with its southern neighbor. Others complained that their friends and relatives had been detained and harassed by police.

On Thursday, Russia said it would abolish quotas allowing a certain number of Georgians each year to obtain residency and work permits. Several Georgian-run casinos and restaurants in Moscow have been raided and closed for “regulatory violations.”

Inna Bashkirova said her brother was detained outside the consulate on suspicion of lacking a valid residence permit, although he is married to a Russian and has his documents in order. Nevertheless, police accused him of faking the documents, took him to a police station and were filling out a deportation form.

“They’re crushing people. They’re destroying families. They used to persecute Jews like this. Now it’s the Georgians’ turn,” she said.

According to some estimates, around 1 million Georgians — more than a fifth of Georgia’s population — work in Russia, and their families rely on the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual remittances sent home. Russian authorities say that more than half of the Georgians in Russia are working illegally.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko said Georgia had to end its “anti-Russian” behavior if it wanted the dispute to calm down.

Bilateral relations have grown progressively worse since pro-Western President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power in Georgia after the 2003 Rose Revolution and vowed to move his country out of Russia’s sphere of influence and join NATO and the European Union.

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