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The Georgia “Mutiny”

May 5, 2009

A quick note on events in Georgia: be very suspicious whenever the government accuses any opposition group or movement of being linked to Russia. Tbilisi has mounted a concerted effort to paint it opponents as Russian stooges, and to shore up Saakashvili’s regime by raising fears of a Russian plot against the country itself.

Of course, the Russians could be involved. But under no circumstances should readers take Tblisi’s word for it.

The Guardian has a good rundown as of about 9:00 am Eastern:

Sikharulidze said the commanders of the military base, 12 miles from Tbilisi, had been dismissed and the soldiers confined to barracks.

President Mikhail Saakashvili said in a televised address that the government was taking the mutiny seriously but it was an isolated incident. He said the situation in the country was under control.

The interior ministry said one person had been arrested. “[The plotters] were receiving money from Russia,” a ministry spokesman, Shota Utiashvili, told a news conference. “It seems it was co-ordinated with Russia.”

However, Georgia’s former defence minister, Giya Karkarashvili, told reporters in Tbilisi he was sceptical of claims of a planned coup attempt, suggesting they were fabricated by the government to dampen opposition.

“Today Georgia is in the hands of sick people, who write the scenario themselves, play it themselves, then make a movie and show it to people for intimidation purposes,” Karkarashvili said.

Russia’s Nato envoy, Dmitri Rogozin, was quoted by the news agency as saying the allegations were “crazy”.

Utiashvili claimed the officers had been working in league with Russian special forces and had planned to launch the uprising tomorrow to coincide with the start of military exercises in Georgia co-ordinated with Nato.

Giya Gvaladze, former head of a special forces group called Delta, was named as leader of the plot and Utiashvili showed undercover video footage in which Gvaladze allegedly discussed his plans with co-conspirators, saying: “The Russians will come to help us, 5,000 people all together.”

The Russian forces would “liquidate” cabinet members such as the interior minister, Vano Merabishvili, Gvaladze was recorded as saying. He added that if the coup was successful, exiled opponents of President Mikhail Saakashvili, such as the former leader of the breakaway region of Adzharia, Aslan Abashidze, would return to the country.

Utiashvili said negotiations were being held with servicemen from a Georgian tank battalion, based in Mukhrovani, who had announced a “mutiny” this morning. He indicated the men were connected to the coup plot, but their commander issued a statement saying the unit was only disobeying command in protest at the standoff between the government and the opposition, and did not intend to launch “aggressive actions”.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow, but the Kremlin has frequently rubbished claims of agreements between its special forces and Georgian elements hostile to Saakashvili’s government.

In tomorrow’s exercises, around 1,000 soldiers from more than a dozen Nato member states and partners will practise “crisis response” at a Georgian army base east of Tbilisi, around 44 miles from the nearest Russian troop positions in South Ossetia.

The exercises at a former Russian air force base in Vaziani are seen as a signal from the 28-member alliance that, despite doubts over the promise of eventual membership, Georgia has not been forgotten.

Georgia has been plagued by unrest since last summer’s disastrous war with Russia, with thousands of citizens taking part in mass protests demanding the resignation of Saakashvili.

The president has been under pressure from the protests for several weeks, and the government’s release of audio and video recordings alleging violent plots to seize power by his opponents have become part of the country’s daily political struggle.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.