POTI, Georgia — Russian soldiers took about 20 Georgians in military uniform prisoner at a key Black Sea port in western Georgia on Tuesday, blindfolding them and holding them at gunpoint, and commandeered American Humvees awaiting shipment back to the United States.
The move came as a small column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles left the strategic city of Gori in the first sign of a Russian pullback of troops from Georgia after a cease-fire intended to end fighting that reignited Cold War tensions.
The two countries also exchanged prisoners on Tuesday. However, Russian soldiers also seized Georgians in Poti — the country's key oil port city — and commandeered four U.S. Humvees that had been used in U.S.-Georgian military exercises.
Russian forces blocked access to Poti's naval and commercial ports Tuesday morning and towed the missile boat Dioskuria, one of the navy's most sophisticated vessels, out of sight of observers. A loud explosion was heard minutes later. Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shote Utiashvili said the Russian military blew up the Dioskuria.
Poti Mayor Vano Taginadze said the Russians seized 22 military and police troops because the Georgians refused to let Russian armored vehicles enter the port. The Georgians were taken to the nearby Senaki military base, now controlled by Russia, where Taginadze was told that they would be released today.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said officials were looking into the reported theft of the Humvees.