Police have arrested 10 men and released several videos purportedly showing the suspects purchasing arms and discussing potential violence at antigovernment actions. Two of the men have been charged with antistate activities; the remainder face lesser arms-purchase charges.
Bitsadze attempted to defuse the situation after the pictures came to light, telling reporters in Tbilisi that his meeting with Breus was innocent and private.
"I am certainly not going to forbid myself from meeting with my friends," Bitsadze said. "I certainly know Shalva Breus, although we don't have such a close relationship that it would prompt us to set up special meetings in various cities. I was in Vienna and also in Kyiv on private business, and wherever I go, I have friends and I see them."
Although the subject of the meeting remains unknown, the photographs are further circumstantial evidence connecting the DMES with Kremlin-connected Georgian émigrés based in Europe and Russia. And it has heightened concerns in Georgia that Russia has stepped up its activity in an attempt to destabilize its southern neighbor.
Breus, 51, is a former Russian deputy property minister who currently serves on the boards of several large Russian firms. According to reports in the Ukrainian and Georgian media, he is a longtime friend of Aslan Abashidze, a multimillionaire and the former head of the autonomous Georgian republic of Adjara.
Abashidze was ousted by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2004 and has since lived in Moscow. Both Breus and Abashidze are from the Adjaran capital, Batumi.
Batumi was a focus of attention earlier this week when police raided the local DMES office there and arrested the head of the party's Adjara branch, Zurab Avaliani, on charges of illegally purchasing and storing weapons. Burjanadze has said the evidence against Avaliani was fabricated.
Avaliani's brother, Mikhail Avaliani, sits on the city council in Arkhangelsk and is a member of Russia's ruling Unified Russia party. A DMES spokesperson told RFE/RL that the party had not been aware of this fact.
In one of the blurry videos released earlier this week as evidence of the antistate charges, an opposition member identified as Malkhaz Gvelukashvili is heard to say that the purported plot was being financially supported by Russian-based Georgians.
"You know the meeting that took place in Austria," the speaker says. "Those who were in Austria are practically our people too. I mean the Georgians who came from Russia. Do you understand? They have enough money to put the country back on its feet."
The meeting between Bitsadze and Breus took place in a Kyiv restaurant on the evening of March 13. Bitsadze stated that he had also been in Vienna "on personal business," and the Ukrainian website DailyUA reported on March 26 that Breus was also in Vienna and met on the sidelines of the conference with unidentified participants.
The Vienna conference was entitled "Perspectives for Georgia's Future" and brought together about 100 Georgians living abroad, as well as representatives of Austria's Freedom Party and observers from Russia. It was organized by former Georgian lawmaker Levan Pirveli, who heads the so-called coordinating council of the Georgian opposition in Europe.
Also in attendance at the Vienna meeting were prominent Georgian publisher Malkhaz Gulashvili, Industrialists party leader Zurab Tkemaladze, Liberty party head Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, and Vladimir Khomeriki, head of the Moscow-based Russian-Georgian Unity Foundation.
Read the full article on Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.