In a ceremony shown live on Georgian television, a Georgian official reiterated the spying charges and said the four would not be permitted to return to Georgia. The officers have now left Georgia and are headed back to Moscow.
President Mikheil Saakashvili said in agreeing to hand them over, Georgia had not caved in to pressure from Moscow.
"This is our goodwill gesture toward our democratic friends and allies, and this is, in no way, a response to pressure...because we are used to that," he said. "We are not afraid of that, and we are willing to move ahead despite and against this pressure and will."
Saakashvili added that he does not believe Russia "will take military steps. But we are not afraid
[of such military action]." He also said Tbilisi has a "very solid case" of Russian
espionage aimed at destabilizing Georgia.
The Georgian president was speaking after talks in Tbilisi today with the OSCE chairman in office, Karel De Gucht.
De Gucht urged Russia to make similar gestures to reduce tensions. He also called on Moscow to restore transport links with Georgia, which Russian authorities earlier today said were being suspended.
The arrest of the four Russian officers on spying charges last week triggered the most serious crisis in relations between the two countries in years.
NOT ALL WINE AND ROSES. Moscow's relations with Tbilisi since the collapse of the Soviet Union have often been tense and strained. Among the issues that have made the relationship difficult are Moscow's alleged support for the breakaway Georgia regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as the continued presence of Russia troops on Georgian territory. Periodically, Georgian lawmakers propose withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) altogether. RFE/RL has written extensively about the rocky relationship between these two countries.