- Posted January 27, 2009 by
Russian Soldier Defects to Georgia
Russian soldier says he deserts to Georgia
27 Jan 2009 20:30:17 GMT
(Adds detail on accommodation, paragraph 9)
By Margarita Antidze
TBILISI, Jan 27 (Reuters) - Georgia paraded a Russian soldier on Tuesday who said he had deserted from Russian forces in South Ossetia to escape mistreatment, but Moscow said the man had been abducted and demanded his return.
"I plan to live here for a while. I just spoke to my mum to calm her down," 21-year-old Alexander Glukhov told Reuters at a McDonald's restaurant in Tbilisi, where he was eating dinner.
Georgian Interior Ministry officials were present at the fastfood restaurant.
Dressed in jeans and trainers, Glukhov said he had asked for asylum, saying conditions with Russian forces in breakaway South Ossetia were unbearable.
Russia demanded his immediate return and said Georgian officials might have forced him into making statements that discredited the Russian military.
Eating a 'BigMac' hamburger and sipping a Coca-Cola, Glukhov denied being captured or subjected to pressure.
"I came to the Georgian side of my own will, to ask for political asylum because I had problems with the commander of my battalion," he said.
Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Khizanishvili said Glukhov would be given accommodation in one of the thousands of homes Georgia built after the war for refugees.
The Russian military said Glukhov was a conscientious soldier who had wanted to extend his service in the army and that he had been captured South Ossetia's Akhalgori region.
"The commander of Russia's military contingent in South Ossetia addressed Georgian security bodies in Gori, demanding they immediately release the Russian soldier," said Colonel Igor Konashenkov, aide to the commander of Russia's ground forces.
Akhalgori lies on the southeastern corner of South Ossetia and was controlled by Tbilisi before last year's fighting, but is now held by Russian troops. A European Union mission is monitoring a ceasefire along the boundary line.
Earlier, Glukhov was shown on Georgian television dressed in military uniform and making a statement to camera.
"I am asking the president of Georgia to grant me asylum," he said. "I cannot bear the hardship Russian soldiers are experiencing here anymore. I hope asylum will be granted."
Georgian Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili said Glukhov handed himself over to Georgian police on Monday, complaining that the major of his unit had been beating him.
"We did not detain him. He is free and can do whatever he wants," Utiashvili said. "He can go back to Russia, or stay in Georgia." (Additional reporting by James Kilner and Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; writing by James Kilner and Matt Robinson; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)