MOSCOW -- Russia has increased pressure on ethnic Georgians living in Moscow, ordering schools to compile lists of children with Georgian surnames to detect illegal migrants and deporting more than 100 people, officials said yesterday.
Russia and the former Soviet republic have been in conflict since the arrests of four Russian officers by Georgia last week on charges of spying. Despite their release, Moscow has imposed punitive sanctions on Georgia.
President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that Georgia was to blame for the dispute and spurned Western calls to lift the sanctions. Putin said international mediators should focus on curbing Georgian conduct he asserted was ``aimed at escalating tension."
Alexander Gavrilov, a spokesman for the Moscow City Hall's education department, said that some, but not all, Moscow schools received the request for children with Georgian names on Thursday. He criticized the police action, saying all children, regardless of nationality or religion, have an equal right to education.
``If the law enforcement bodies carry out work searching for illegal migrants, it's their business and there is no way schools must be involved in this process," Gavrilov said.
Nina Zubareva, an official from school No. 1289 in northern Moscow, said the local police station had telephoned Thursday and demanded a list of pupils with Georgian surnames.
``There are very few pupils with Georgian surnames in our school and we have honored the police request," she said.
In an interview with Ekho Mosvsky radio, Moscow police spokesman Valery Gribakin denied authorities asked for the names. But the Kommersant newspaper said a high-ranking police official confirmed the request had been made.
``The initiative comes from the Interior Ministry," the official was quoted as saying. He added that checking for illegal migrants ``is easiest to do through children, who study at school irrespective of whether their parents are registered in Moscow or pay taxes."
Meanwhile, Russian authorities deported 132 Georgians accused of entering the country illegally, said Viktor Beltsov, a spokesman for the Emergency Situations Ministry. Other Georgians complained of detentions and harassment by police.
Inna Bashkirova said her brother, Shota Georgadze, 32, was detained outside the Georgian consulate in Moscow yesterday on suspicion of lacking a valid residence permit. Bashkirova said her brother is married to a Russian citizen and has all his documents in order, but police accused him of faking the paperwork and were preparing to deport him.
``They're crushing people, they're destroying families. They used to persecute Jews like this. Now it's the Georgians' turn," Bashkirova said, on the verge of tears. ``If [Georgian President Mikhail] Saakashvili did something wrong, why do common people suffer?"