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Georgia says will not hand over Russian deserter to Moscow

RIA Novosti

28/01/2009 21:59 TBILISI, January 28 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia has no plans to hand over Russian Army Jr. Sgt. Alexander Glukhov to Moscow, Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said on Wednesday.

The Georgians released a video of Glukhov on Tuesday in which he described why he had deserted and fled to Georgia. The Russian military claimed he was captured in South Ossetia and demanded his return.

"We will protect his rights and we are not planning to hand Glukhov over to Russia," Vashadze said. "We know quite well that he will be threatened if we hand the soldier back to the Russians."

The foreign minister said that he had contacted the Swiss ambassador in Georgia, who represents Russia in the country as Tbilisi and Moscow cut all diplomatic relations after the five-day war in August last year.

"We have invited the ambassador of Switzerland so that he can confirm Glukhov's situation in Georgia and to what degree his rights are being protected," the minister said.

The Swiss Embassy in Tbilisi said it would redirect the issue of the Russian soldier to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to review.

Vashadze said that Georgia had already contacted the sergeant's parents and invited them to Tbilisi to visit their son.

In the video released on Tuesday, Glukhov explained why he left his division, deployed in Akhalgori, near the South Ossetian border with Georgia. The Russian soldier requested that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili grant him political asylum and allow him to live in Tbilisi.

The Georgia Interior Ministry has said it is looking into the possibility of granting Glukhov citizenship.

A Russian Army spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, told RIA Novosti that Glukhov was under moral and psychological pressure and possibly being threatened.

In an interview with journalists in a Tbilisi McDonald's restaurant on Tuesday, Glukhov said he deserted from the Russian Army and wanted to remain in Georgia. He had already called his mother to calm her.

The Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday that Georgia was ready to organize a meeting between Glukhov and Russian Foreign Ministry representatives only after the issue had been discussed with Georgia's Interior Ministry and other departments.

The ministry said Russian Foreign Ministry representatives had held a meeting with their Georgian counterparts on Wednesday.

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