ZAKI, Georgia (AP) _ Russian border guards turned back scores of Georgian trucks at the Roki Tunnel crossing on Tuesday, the day when a new visa requirement for Georgians entering Russia went into effect.

It is the first time that Russia has required entry documents from residents of former Soviet republics except the three small Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The system has sparked strong protests in Georgia, many of whose citizens have relatives in Russia or travel there frequently to trade.

Russia says it introduced the visa regime for security reasons, to block the movement of criminals, rebels and weapons across the border with Georgia, the only foreign country that borders on separatist Chechnya. The Kremlin accuses Georgia of failing to strengthen the mountainous, 50-mile border.

Truck drivers who were turned back from taking loads of oranges and apples into Russia were angry and directed their bitterness at Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

``Because of his talentless politics, thousands of people are on the edge of hunger,'' said driver Gocha Soseliya. ``Ah, how he loves the Chechens!''

``These visas are such a nuisance,'' complained trucker Givi Buzhgulashvili, who was trying to transport 15 1/2 tons of apples from his village, Kirtznisi, to the Russian city of Ufa. ``We had a good crop of apples and now they'll go rotten.''

Maj. Alexei Khlusov, the Russian commander at the checkpoint, said: ``We made several trucks loaded with apples and tangerines go back because the drivers did not have visas.'' Visas can be obtained only in the capital Tbilisi.

A top Georgian official said Tuesday that Russia's claim of security concerns was undercut by the Kremlin's decision not to require visas from residents of Georgia's separatist provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, until Jan. 1.

The exemption was also criticized by the U.S. State Department, whose spokesman Richard Boucher on Tuesday said it ``runs directly counter to (Russia's) stated policy of support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.''