Rus­sian agent linked to U.S. Em­bassy blast in Ge­or­gia

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ELI LAKE

A bomb blast near the U.S. Em­bassy in Tb­lisi, Ge­or­gia, in Septem­ber was traced to a plot run by a Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, ac­cord­ing to an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Ge­or­gian In­te­rior Min­istry.

Shota Uti­ashvili, the most se­nior of­fi­cial in charge of in­tel­li­gence anal­y­sis for the min­istry, said in an in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times that the re­cent spate of bomb­ings and at­tempted bomb­ings — in­clud­ing what he said was a blast tar­get­ing the U.S. Em­bassy — was the work of Rus­sian GRU of­fi­cer Maj. Yevgeny Borisov.

A Ge­or­gian cour t has charged Maj. Borisov, who is based in the Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied prov­ince of Abk­hazia, with be­ing the mas­ter­mind be­hind a spate of 12 bomb­ings and at­tempted bomb­ings through­out the coun­try in the past year. These at­tempts in­clude the det­o­na­tion of a mil­i­tary-grade ex­plo­sive about 100 yards from the U.S. Em­bassy in Tb­lisi on Sept. 22. No deaths or in­juries were re­ported.

If the Ge­or­gian charges are true, it im­pli­cates a branch of the Rus­sian mil­i­tary in plot- ting a lethal at­tack on U.S. ter­ri­tory three months be­fore the U.S. Se­nate voted to rat­ify a new strate­gic arms con­trol treaty with Moscow touted as the cen­ter­piece of Pres­i­dent Obama’s pol­icy to “re­set” re­la­tions with Moscow.

Mr. Uti­ashvili, di­rec­tor of in­for­ma­tion and anal­y­sis for the Ge­or­gian In­te­rior Min­istry, said he shared de­tails of the on­go­ing probe into the em­bassy bomb­ing at­tempt with U.S. se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in Wash­ing­ton.

Ge­or­gia’s ef­forts to track down those re­spon­si­ble for the bomb­ings and the plot against the em­bassy were dis­cussed dur­ing July 18 talks with State Depart­ment and Pen­tagon of­fi­cials, he said.

“These are ex­traor­di­nar­ily spe­cific and de­tailed al­le­ga­tions de­liv­ered by the gov­ern­ment of Ge­or­gia,” said Sen. Mark Kirk, Illi­nois Repub­li­can. “On the ba­sis of this re­port, the Congress should ex­am­ine these al­le­ga­tions of a Rus­sianspon­sored at­tack on a U.S. Em­bassy and its per­son­nel.

“If true, a Rus­sian-spon­sored at­tack on a U.S. Em­bassy would con­sti­tute the most se­ri­ous cri­sis in U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions since the Cold War and put to lie any ‘re­set’ in bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.”

A Rus­sian Em­bassy spokesman said the charges by Mr. Uti­ashvili were false. A State Depart­ment spokesman de­clined to com­ment, not­ing “as a mat­ter of long-stand­ing pol­icy, the State Depart­ment does not com­ment on in­ves­ti­ga­tions or in­tel­li­gence mat­ters.”

In 2008, Rus­sian mil­i­tary forces in­vaded the Ge­or­gian prov­inces of South Os­se­tia and Abk­hazia af­ter skir mishes broke out be­tween Ge­or­gian forces and Rus­sian peace­keep­ers in South Os­se­tia. To this day, Rus­sian troops re­main in South Os­se­tia and Abk­hazia. The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment rec­og­nizes the two prov­inces as in­de­pen­dent countr ies, de­spite a near con­sen­sus of al­most all other U.N. mem­ber states that say the ter­ri­to­ries are Ge­or­gian.

One el­e­ment of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­set pol­icy has been that U.S. pres­sure on Rus­sia over its oc­cu­pa­tion has been muted at times. De­spite Ge­or­gia’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Afghanistan War, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has main­tained a de facto arms em­bargo on Ge­or­gia.

Mr. Uti­ashvili said last month that Ge­or­gian in­ves­ti­ga­tors matched the de­sign of the mil­i­tary-grade ex­plo­sive found at a rail­way bridge in Poti to the bomb found in front of the U.S. Em­bassy in Ge­or­gia in Septem­ber. The ex­plo­sives are known as RDX in the United States and hex­o­gen in Ge­or­gia.

“In June, we have found a num­ber of bombs, they all come from the same source, these are Hex­o­gen ex­plo­sives and they are of­ten stored in a juice box or candy box,” Mr. Uti­ashvili said. “The bomb we found on the rail­way bridge was the same de­sign as the one in front of the U.S. Em­bassy in Septem­ber.”

It turns out the bomb on the rail­way bridge never ex­ploded. Nonethe­less, the op­er­a­tive who placed the bomb on the bridge told his GRU han­dlers that it had, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Uti­ashvili.

“The Rus­sians wanted to check the in­for­ma­tion [. . . ] so the deputy to Borisov called the Euro­pean Union mon­i­tor­ing mis­sion in Ge­or­gia and of­fered help with the ca­su­al­ties af­ter the ex­plo­sion on the rail­way which never ex­ploded,” Mr. Uti­ashvili said. “The Euro­pean Union mis­sion told us this.”

Yevgeny Khor ishko, a spokesman for the Rus­sian Em- bassy in Wash­ing­ton, dis­missed the charges. “All these rounds of al­le­ga­tions are ab­so­lutely false and base­less,” he said.

Mr. Uti­ashvili said he traced the bomb­ings in his coun­try to Mr. Bor isov af­ter run­ning checks on the tem­po­rary cell­phones found from sus­pects ar­rested for plac­ing the bombs.

“We have iden­ti­fied the ter­ror­ist phone num­bers, from the sus­pects we have ar­rested,” he said. “Though these were tem­po­rary cell­phones, they would al­ways call the same num­ber af­ter ever y ex­plo­sion. The phone num­ber would be traced to an Abk­hazia num­ber be­long­ing to an eth­nic Ge­or­gian named Mukhran Tskhadaia who works for the GRU.”

Mr. Tskhadaia and Mr. Borisov have been sen­tenced in ab­sen­tia to 30 years in prison for their roles in the bomb­ings.

Mr. Uti­ashvili said that af­ter re­ceiv­ing the call from the bomber, Mr. Tskhadaia would “call a num­ber we know be­longs to the GRU.”

“This is some­one who is of­fi­cially reg­is­tered in the Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry. He is the deputy to Maj. Yevgeny Borisov, who we be­lieve is the real mas­ter­mind of the bomb­ing cam­paign.”

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