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Russian Defense Ministry insists 'deserter' was seized by Georgia


MOSCOW, January 29 (RIA Novosti) - Reports that Russian Army Jr. Sgt. Alexander Glukhov deserted his unit and fled to Georgia from South Ossetia are false, Russia's Defense Ministry insisted on Thursday.

"There is an Army commission in Tskhinvali [South Ossetia] investigating the incident," Russian Army spokesman Col. Igor Konashenkov was quoted as saying.

"The investigation is not complete and, moreover, difficult weather conditions are keeping the commission members from reaching the Leningorsky region in South Ossetia where the incident occurred. As of today, therefore, there is no information that contradicts what the Russian Defense Ministry released earlier with regard to the Russian soldier being kidnapped by Georgian special forces."

On Tuesday, Georgia's Internal Ministry reported that Glukhov had surrendered to the Georgian police. A report on the English language Georgian Times news website said he had complained about the "unbearable conditions" in his unit.

Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said on Tuesday that Georgia had already contacted the soldier's parents and invited them to Tbilisi to visit their son.

In a radio interview with Russia's Ekho Moskvy on Wednesday, the soldier said he did not believe he was a traitor and that his actions were not politically motivated because if his army division had been deployed near any other foreign border, he would have done the same thing.

The Russian soldier also earlier requested that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili grant him political asylum and allow him to live in Tbilisi. The Georgian Interior Ministry has said it is looking into the possibility of granting Glukhov citizenship. Glukhov also said he had already called his mother to reassure her that he was safe.

The Russian Defense Ministry said on 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. Glukhov was drafted in the fall of 2007, and was to be discharged this fall after having served his two years in the Army.

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