Georgia charges South Ossetia activist is KGB spy
David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Published: Monday December 15, 2008

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Lira Tskhovrebova, who describes herself as an independent activist from South Ossetia, wants the world to know that Georgia is as much at fault as Russia in the war last August over that breakaway region. She also insists that Georgian troops were guilty of war crimes in her country.

However, an investigation by the Associated Press has revealed that Tskhovrebova may not be as independent as she claims.

Georgian intelligence officials have accused Tskhovrebova of being a spy for both the South Ossetians and the Russians. They support this charge with recordings, going back to 2005, of conversations between her and a deputy director of the South Ossetian security agency, Vasily Guliev, in which she appears to offer him information in exchange for money.

Tskhovrebova insists that Guliev is a family friend with whom she discusses routine matters and that she does not work for South Ossetia's KGB. She says, "Nobody working for human rights in my part of the world can avoid contact with security officials. This is as true in Georgia as it is in Ossetia and everybody familiar with human rights work knows it."

The South Ossetian KGB also denies that Tskhovrebova is a spy and calls the Georgian claims about her "a typical provocation aimed to discredit (South Ossetia) and pin a label on a person who is involved in protecting human rights."

According to the AP, the recordings appear to be inconclusive, but one thing that is clear is that Tskhovrebova has high-powered backers. She is being represented by the "crisis PR firm," Saylor Company, which describes itself as specializing in "high-stakes communications and top-level media relations." That firm has helped document her efforts, set up websites, and arranged official meetings in the United States.

A scheduled meeting with the State Department has now been canceled because of growing doubts about Tskhovrebova. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza says, "It is unique in my years of experience in the Caucasus that someone like this has representation by an expensive public relations firm. That sets off alarm bells."

Tskhovrebova does admit that she was helped to hire Saylor by a well-known Russian theater and film director, Andrei Konchalovsky, whose brother is a prominent supporter of Vladimir Putin.

A Georgian spokesman claims that Tskhovrebova's connections with the South Ossetian KGB prove she is also working with Russia's intelligence agency, the FSB, because the two agencies are so closely connected. "We have multiple pieces of evidence that prove that she is an FSB spy," the spokesman stated.

The full AP story can be read here.

This video is from the Associate Press, broadcast Dec. 15, 2008.

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