TBILISI, Georgia (Reuters) -- Georgia, acting to defuse its worst crisis with Russia for years, said on Monday it would hand over to European mediators four Russian army officers arrested on spying charges.
But reports that Moscow had suddenly ordered all Russian transport links with Georgia to be severed appeared to show that the crisis was far from over.
Russian news agencies quoted sources at the transport and communications ministries as saying air, rail, road and sea links to Georgia would be cut, as would postal services. A transport ministry spokeswoman refused to comment.
Tension built up after the Georgians arrested the Russian officers last Wednesday, leading to a war of words between Moscow and Tbilisi, including a sharp verbal attack by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, the Georgians tried to calm the row.
"Today there will be a ceremony of handing over the arrested Russian officers to the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) chairman-in-office," said a spokesman for President Mikhail Saakashvili.
The OSCE chairman-in-office, Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht, was due to arrive in the Georgian capital at around 1200 GMT for talks with Saakashvili.
The spokesman said the four officers would be handed over in a formal ceremony after these talks.
"We just wanted to show that we defend our national interests and that Russia like any other country should respect these interests," presidential chief-of-staff Georgy Arveladze said. "It was not our goal to punish these people."
Earlier, Saakashvili dismissed Putin's forceful remarks, saying Moscow was unlikely to use force to free the four officers whom Tbilisi said worked for Russia's GRU military intelligence and had been building a spy network.
"I don't think they are irrational enough to use military force," Saakashvili told Western journalists in a late night interview on Sunday. "It is an overreaction caused by nervousness that they have created by themselves."
Putin, speaking after a meeting of security officials, accused Georgia of committing "state terrorism with hostage-taking" by arresting the Russian officers and charging them with spying.
The crisis stemming from the arrests was the most serious between pro-Western Georgia and its giant ex-Soviet master in years. Russia has withdrawn its ambassador and dozens of officials from Tbilisi and stopped issuing visas to Georgians.
The Georgian Foreign Ministry interpreted Putin's comments as a threat to use military force against Georgia.
But Saakashvili, in the interview in the port town of Batumi, brushed off both this view and possible economic sanctions by Russia, which provides Georgia's gas supplies and controls the country's power grid.
"People have got used to economic problems and have started coping with them," he said, adding that the Russian authorities had become "hostages of their own propaganda."
Analysts said Georgia had heeded the advice of its Western partners in deciding to hand over the Russians to the OSCE.
"It seems the international communitry and the partners of Georgia have recommended Saakashvili's government to calm the situation down," said Ramaz Sakvarelidze, a Tbilisi-based political analyst. "Georgia needs western support so it always takes into account all their recommendations."
Putin on Sunday also compared the arrests to the actions of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's feared secret police chief, Lavrenty Beria. Both Beria and Stalin were ethnic Georgians.
Putin suggested Saakashvili was fooling himself by believing he could count on "foreign sponsors," a reference to the United States, for support in the confrontation with Russia.
Saakashvili swept to power in a popular revolution in 2003 and wants to move his small country of five million firmly out of Russia's orbit and to join NATO.
Despite his tough talk, Putin later told the Defence Ministry to continue a long-planned pull-out of Russian troops from Georgia, news agencies quoted his spokesman Alexei Gromov as saying.
The Russian Defense Ministry had said on Saturday it was suspending the withdrawal, under which Russia is to pull out its troops from two bases by the end of 2008.