Alexa

Putin warns Georgia against further provoking Moscow

Putin warns Georgia against further provoking Moscow

President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday accused Georgia of blackmail and lawmakers threatened further sanctions as Moscow police went after businesses allegedly tied to Georgian organized crime and cracked down on illegal migrants from the Caucasus nation.
The Kremlin's fury over last week's arrest of four Russian officers in Georgia, which sparked Moscow's suspension of air, sea, road, rail and postal links Tuesday, showed no sign of ebbing despite their release.
The arrests appear to have been the last straw for the Russian leadership, which is clearly alarmed over Tbilisi's goal of NATO membership and the growing U.S. influence in its former Soviet backyard.
Summoning parliamentary faction leaders to the Kremlin, Putin thanked them for their show of unity on Moscow's tough approach before delivering his verdict.
"I would not counsel anyone to talk to Russia in the language of provocations and blackmail," he told the four legislators _ Boris Gryzlov, the head of the dominant pro-Kremlin United Russia party, and the heads of the State Duma's three nationalist parties.
The MPs then returned to the legislature to lead passage of a statement on the "anti-Russian and anti-democratic policy of the Georgian authorities," which parroted previous Kremlin statements and signaled "harsher measures" in case of further aggravation.
"Not all sanctions have been imposed," the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted Gryzlov as saying.
Possible next steps include sharply restricting Russian energy shipments come winter and prohibiting money transfers from Russia and Georgia.
The latter could deal a huge blow to Georgia's struggling economy. According to some estimates, over one-fifth of Georgia's 4.4 million population work in Russia, and their families rely on the hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in annual remittances.
Police are already targeting the large Georgian diaspora in Moscow with raids of businesses and restaurants. On Tuesday and Wednesday, masked riot police poured into two popular casinos run by Georgians in the Russian capital, saying they had no authorization for their casino tables and slot machines and claiming they were tied to Georgian organized crime.
They also raided a hotel and two restaurants run by Georgians, saying they could be closed for legal violations.
"They should have gone after the bandits a long time ago," said Marina, a hostess in a Georgian restaurant in central Moscow who declined to give her last name for fear of attracting police attention. "But they shouldn't have waited until it was politically convenient to do so."
Police were also stepping up their searches for illegal migrants from Georgia. At Moscow's Dorogomilovsky market, police on Tuesday checked workers' documents and arrested three Georgian women who had been selling cheese, said their fellow vendors. The police had to let other Georgians remain because they had documents proving they were officially recognized refugees from the Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia.
The daily Kommersant quoted police officials as saying that 40 Georgian restaurants and shops in downtown Moscow would be raided in the next few days.
Families in Georgia worried about their kin in Russia becoming caught up in the political dispute.
"I'm afraid my son will be deported, that the insult from Georgia will reflect on him, because Putin is a vengeful man," said Laura Chanturia, a 59-year-old university teacher who said her son sent money home every month to support her and her grandson.
Georgian officials, however, kept up a nonchalant stance, with Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli trying to reassure the nation that new sanctions from Russia would not inflict significant economic damage.
"Russia has implemented sanctions before and we were able to stand our ground. We are standing our ground now," he said.
Alexander Chagunava, a 52-year-old electric engineer, said Georgians were taking the dispute with Russia in stride.
"There was more panic when they introduced the ban on Georgian wine," he said, referring to the Russian government's prohibition of wine imports last spring for alleged health reasons.
Russia has also stopped granting entry visas to Georgian nationals.
Russia's chilly relations with Georgia have worsened steadily since Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili came to power following the 2003 Rose Revolution, vowing to take the country out of Russia's orbit, rein in the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and join NATO in 2008. Georgia accuses Russia of backing the separatists, which Russia denies.
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Associated Press Writer Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili contributed to this report from Tbilisi, Georgia.