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28 Jan, 2009 12:30

Russia to Georgia: Return our kidnapped soldier

Moscow is demanding that Georgia releases a Russian army junior sergeant, who was captured in the Akhalgori district of South Ossetia and taken to Tbilisi, according to the Russian military.

Georgia, however, insists junior sergeant Aleksandr Glukhov fled his army unit due to unbearable conditions of service and applied to the Georgian President, Mikhail Saakashvili, for asylum.

“I ask the Georgian president to let me stay in Tbilisi,” Russian serviceman Aleksandr Glukhov was shown as saying on local TV.

Twenty-one-year-old sergeant Aleksandr Glukhov nearly completed his military contract in the Russian army. On TV he was shown complaining about living conditions in his regiment, stationed in the removed area of South Ossetia. He says no one forced him to the interview, but his torn hands might tell a different story.

Hours later other pictures became available. The Russian was speaking to the camera of a western agency. He was smiling and looked quite happy, and although Georgia claimed Glukhov was free to move whenever he wanted, the Interior Ministry officials were keeping an eye on him during the whole interview.

“On January 26 a soldier of the Russian regular army, whose name is Aleksandr Glukhov, abandoned his military unit which is deployed on the territory of the Akhalgori region of Georgia and according to his explanation it happened due to unbearable living conditions in this military unit,” said Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Nalbandov.

“The conditions there were awful. We had no bath. There was not enough food and it was very bad,” Aleksandr Glukhov said.

That became a motive to leave, Glukhov said. He added he would have done the same if another state were nearby, not Georgia, and there’s not any political underpinning in his going there.

Glukhov stressed, though, that his commanding officer was not beating him, he was just scolding at him for the way Glukhov was fulfilling orders.

The Russian Defence Ministry insists that Glukhov was kidnapped by the Georgian forces that penetrated into the territory of South Ossetia, and then took him to Tbilisi for this interview.

“Aleksandr Glukhov was captured by the Georgian military in South Ossetia and taken to Tbilisi. It is another information provocation by the Georgian authorities. Under physical or psychological pressure or threats, he could have said anything,” said Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, Russian Defence Ministry spokesman.

Georgia’s Foreign Ministry is arranging a meeting with Glukhov and the Swiss Ambassador, as the Switzerland’s Embassy is representing Russia’s interests in Georgia, and vice versa.

It is intended that the Swiss Embassy should confirm that Glukhov is not being held in Georgia by force.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio station Glukhov said he is afraid for his life should he return to Russia.

While Russia demands an immediate release of its soldier, experts are trying to predict what will happen next:

“I think he will finally be returned to Russia – because he won't be killed after being shown on TV. But the Georgian side will get some momentary gain while telling the whole world how miserable the fate of a Russian soldier is,” military expert Viktor Litovkin said.

It's not clear where sergeant Glukhov is currently located. But the Georgian Foreign Ministry has said that Glukhov’s parents may visit the country and meet their son.

“Rights and freedoms of the serviceman will be fully protected. He has already been given an opportunity to talk to his parents on the phone. Georgia’s Foreign Ministry asks his family to come and meet their son. The Georgian side will provide everything necessary for that,” the Georgian Foreign Ministry announced, according to Ria Novosti news agency.

Meanwhile Aleksandr Glukhov’s mother, Galina, has denied the Georgian claims. She says she has received no information about her son’s health.

Galina Glukhova, has also said that she doubts her son could willingly leave Russia.

Following Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia in August, relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have been tense. In August, Russia recognised the independence of the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

This is not the first Georgian provocation against Russians in South Ossetia since then.

Last October eight Russian peacekeepers were killed by a remotely controlled explosion. In 2007, Russian journalists were detained for no reason and taken to Tbilisi, but it seems this time things have gone too far, and the situation is getting serious.