Georgia has put down a rebellion at an army barracks near Tblisi, which President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government is claiming was “coordinated with Russia and aimed at minimum thwarting NATO military exercises.” Moscow says this allegation is “mad.”
Tony Halpin for The Times of London.
Georgia claimed today to have foiled a Russian-backed plot to stage a military coup on the eve of joint exercises with Nato troops. An Interior Ministry spokesman announced that the special services had uncovered a plot to topple the Government involving a former high-ranking officer at the Defence Ministry. A tank battalion had mutinied at a base in Mukhrovani, 20 miles east of Tbilisi, and was refusing to obey orders, the Defence Ministry said.
David Sikharulidze, the Defence Minister, told Georgian television that several hundred troops in the tank battalion had launched a rebellion aimed at overthrowing the authorities and wrecking the Nato exercises. “The mutiny is continuing. The rebellious battalion was told to stop,” Mr Sikharulidze said.
An Interior Ministry spokesman, Shota Utiashvili, said that special services had exposed a wider conspiracy to launch a coup involving several army units. A former commander of a special forces unit had been arrested. “The preliminary investigation materials show that the plot was co-ordinated with the Russians and was aimed at disrupting the Nato training,” Mr Utiashvili said. “They were receiving money from Russia. It seems it was co-ordinated with Russia.” The uprising was linked to discontent over the political situation in Georgia, he added. Opposition parties began street demonstrations on April 9 to force Mr Saakashvili, but support for the protest has been dwindling.
Russia’s ambassador to Nato, Dmitri Rogozin, dismissed as “mad” Georgian claims of Moscow’s involvement in the coup attempt. He told Interfax: “It can be said that both the Georgian army and Georgian nationhood are undergoing complete destruction, and the reason is again Saakashvili’s mad policies.”
Doubts were also expressed from inside Georgia. Giya Karkarashvili, an opposition leader and former defence minister, said: “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.”
A report by Tom Parfit for the Guardian adds,
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.
The Georgian Civil.ge website seems to have broken the story and has these details:
Defense Minister Sikharulidze also said that apart of thwarting the planned NATO exercises, which are scheduled to start on May 6, the mutiny possibly also aimed at overthrowing the government.
The Interior Ministry has also released a video footage, recorded apparently with a body-worn covert camera and showing a man, purportedly Gia Gvaladze, talking to several persons – one whose face was blurred in order not to identify him and another one to whom the body-worn camera was attached.
When speaking about the planned mutiny Gvaladze mentions names of former senior military and security officials, including of Davit Tevzadze, a former defense minister; Jemal Gakhokidze, a former security minister; Koba Kobaladze, a former commander of national guard and Gia Karkarashvili, a commander of the Georgian army during the Abkhaz war in early 90s. Karkarashvili is now affiliated with Irakli Alasania’s political team, part of opposition Alliance for Georgia. Gvaladze says that these people would be supporting the planned mutiny.
He also says in the footage that murder of some senior officials and President Saakashvili’s close allies were also planned, including Giga Bokeria, deputy foreign minister; Vano Merabishvili, the interior minister and Gigi Ugulava, the Tbilisi mayor. The man also says in the footage that 5,000-strong Russian troops would move in and take positions at key east-west highway close to Tbilisi.
Huma Yusuf has a nice roundup of other press at CSM.
It’s too soon to know what to think of these allegations. Saakasvili is under fire and manufacturing a threat of a Russian-backed coup would certainly bolster his position. At the same time, the Russians have in fact invaded Georgia, have troops in “Georgia proper” besides the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and are certainly exerting their influence on Georgia’s internal politics with an eye on ousting Saakashvili. Would they go so far as to back a coup? It’s hardly out of the realm of possibility.
James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.