Men wearing traditional clothes stand next to the Georgian flag during the Independence Day celebrations in Tbilisi, Georgia May 26, 2022. REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze Acquire Licensing Rights
TBILISI, Sept 18 (Reuters) – Georgia on Monday accused a former deputy interior minister of plotting from Ukraine to overthrow the Tbilisi government, testing ties with Kyiv as Georgia deepens its relations with Russia.
The State Security Service said it had been monitoring a group led by Giorgi Lortkipanidze, who it alleged was working as deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence and is a former member of a strongly pro-Western Georgian government.
“According to confirmed and verified information, the implementation of the plan – developed by Giorgi Lortkipanidze – would involve a rather large group of Georgian fighters in Ukraine and a part of Georgian youth,” the service said in a statement.
It did not provide evidence, and in Kyiv, foreign ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko said Tbilisi was “trying to demonise Ukraine” for domestic reasons.
“The Ukrainian state did not interfere, does not interfere and does not plan to interfere in the internal affairs of Georgia,” he wrote on Facebook.
Andriy Yusov, spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence, said it had never had a Giorgi Lortkipanidze as deputy head, though he declined to say whether it employed such a person.
The Georgian statement said the alleged plotters planned to channel frustration among young Georgians if the European Union failed to grant their country candidate status at an EU summit in mid-December.
Georgia says it is committed to joining the EU. But it was denied candidate status last year, with Brussels saying it must reduce political polarisation and improve state institutions. Since then, EU officials say it has, if anything, slid back.
Relations with Europe have also suffered since the beginning of the war in Ukraine as Tbilisi has avoided blaming Moscow, even though Georgia’s population is heavily pro-Ukraine.
Many Georgians resent Russia’s backing for the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and Georgians are well-represented among foreigners fighting for Ukraine.
Though Tbilisi has shipped humanitarian aid to Ukraine, it has declined to impose sanctions on Russia, and in May allowed direct flights to and from its vast neighbour for the first time since 2019.
The same month, Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili blamed the expansion of the western NATO alliance for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In December, the chair of the ruling party suggested that Georgians fighting in Ukraine could lose their citizenship.
Kyiv has also criticised Georgia for imprisoning Mikheil Saakashvili, a pro-Western former president who acquired Ukrainian nationality.
The Georgian State Security Service named a former bodyguard to Saakashvili as one of the alleged conspirators, along with the commander of a Georgian unit fighting in Ukraine.
Reporting by Felix Light; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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