Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Russia charges "deserter", Georgia won't extradite

A Russian soldier who upset Moscow by leaving his unit and turning up in Georgia has been charged with desertion, Russian prosecutors said on Tuesday, while Tbilisi said it had no plans to extradite the fugitive.

"The Military Investigative Directorate has launched this criminal case," said a spokesman for the Russian Military Prosecutor's office. "Desertion is punished by up to seven years in jail."
Sergeant Alexander Glukhov disappeared in January from his unit in breakaway South Ossetia and said he wanted asylum in Georgia, angering Moscow and handling a public relations coup to the pro-Western government in Tbilisi.

Georgia and Russia fought a war last August over South Ossetia, a breakaway pro-Russian province of Georgia. Tbilisi's forces tried to retake it, unleashing a massive counter-attack by Russian troops.

Russia now demands Glukhov should be extradited by Georgia, but Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili ruled this out. "Georgia will not discuss extraditing Glukhov to Russia until the issue of granting him political asylum in Georgia has been decided," Utiashvili said.

Dressed in jeans and trainers and eating a "Big Mac" hamburger, Glukhov told Reuters at a McDonald's outlet in Tbilisi in January that he had fled his military unit because conditions with Russian forces in South Ossetia were unbearable.

Russia's defence ministry had originally maintained that Glukhov was captured by Georgian forces and kept in Tbilisi against his will. It later appealed to him to return to Russia, saying he was a disciplined soldier, no legal action would be taken against him and he would be sent to continue service in another unit.

The defence ministry brought Glukhov's mother to South Ossetia, but the soldier declined to meet her in an area lying close to Russian military positions.

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