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6 May, 2009 04:04

Georgian mutiny quelled

A mutiny in a Georgian tank battalion ended after negotiations with President Saakashvili. The military revolted following the Interior Ministry’s allegation of planned coup d’etat.

A rebellion at the Mukhorvani military base has been suppressed, and its organizer has been arrested, according to Georgia’s Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, quoted by Interfax news agency.

Merabishvili also said that more than 500 disarmed soldiers of the armored combat unit are being questioned. He also noted that two civilians – former officers – escaped when the soldiers started to surrender. The search for them is underway, the minister added.

Public TV in Georgia reported that the coup participants have been disarmed. Georgia’s military police officers have entered the base, and rebellious soldiers are being taken away from the base by buses.

Earlier, the Georgian media reported that President Saakashvili visited the military base accompanied by tanks and armored vehicles. He told journalists that he personally spoke to the leader of the mutiny and convinced him to surrender.

‘Russia is to blame’ – Georgia’s President

In his televised address, Saakashvili has called on Russia “not to aggravate the situation in Georgia."

“Recently we have heard a lot of rhetorical threats, and actual provocations have been carried out,” he said.

According to the country’s leader, “within the last weeks Russia has three times increased the amount of their armed forces on Georgia’s occupied territories – in the Abkhaz and Tskhinval areas – and has deployed practically the whole of its Black Sea Fleet in Georgia’s water zone. This is an extremely provocative and dangerous step,” said the President.

However, earlier Russia’s envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin cited provocations from the Georgian side in the areas near South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and said Tbilisi is increasing its military presence in the regions, which, according to Churkin, leads to destabilizing the situation.

Georgian officials claimed a coup d’etat was unearthed in the country, which was aimed at thwarting NATO exercises, and perhaps even seizing power.

ITAR-TASS quotes Defense Minister David Sikharulidze as saying: “The mutiny at the Mukhrovansky tank battalion was part of a wide-scale coup d’etat, and an armed revolt against the government which was suppressed by law enforcement.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili blamed events on former senior officers linked with Russia.

“According to the ministry’s data, the coup d’etat was organized by former high-ranking officials in the Defense Ministry, who are connected with Russian secret services.”

He proffered video footage of talks between the officers discussing details of their plan, adding that all “were in direct alliance with Russia and took their money.”

Utiashvili went on to allege that the plans included the assassination of several government officials, with one of those arrested, Gia Gvaladze, being a former commando unit leader in the 1990’s. Officials are searching for two of his co-conspirators.

However, those Georgian generals mentioned in the ‘list of the rebellion organizers’ in the televised footage, have denied any connection to the attempted military coup while speaking to Rustavi TV channel.

“I can definitely say that I haven’t contacted those people mentioned in the last five years,” said former Georgia’s Security minister, General Dzhemal Gakhokidze.

In his turn, Lieutenant General Dzhoni Pirtskhalaishvili, former head of Georgia’s General Staff of Armed Forces, told Rustavi that recently he “has been learning about Georgia’s political life from TV and newspapers”. He said he hasn’t been to Tbilisi for three years and hasn’t seen the people mentioned in the footage for five years.

Former Georgian Defense minister Georgy Karkarashvili has also denied any connection to Tuesday’s rebellion.

Russia’s ‘advice’: See the doctor

The Kremlin is advising Saakashvili to “consult a doctor” in view of his accusations against Russia, Interfax reports.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has noted that “uncontrolled processes in the Georgian interior policy are interpreted by the country’s leadership as the scheming of Russia as an external enemy”.

“This is an inappropriate way of solving the problems in their own society, all the more in the problematic Caucasus region,” the Ministry’s statement said.

The Ministry denies claims by Georgian officials’ that Russia was linked to the rebellion at the Mukhrovani military base.

“We reiterate that Russia doesn’t interfere with Georgia’s internal affairs. We do not believe in scenarios imposed from outside the country,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement reads.

Interfax also reports that a deputy-head of the Russian Foreign Ministry said “Georgia’s accusations against Russia show the Georgian government’s sick imagination and irresponsible behavior."

A source in the Russian special services, cited by ITAR-TASS news agency, said allegations of Moscow’s involvement in any Georgian coup are “delirium and agony on Saakashvili's regime’s part.”

The head of CIS Affairs in Russia’s State Duma, Aleksey Ostrovsky, thinks that President Saakashvili has completely discredited himself in the face of the country’s military and special services.

“I believe that the Georgian government and Saakashvili primarily need to receive highly qualified medical attention because ordinary psychiatrists will simply be unable to determine their diagnosis,” Ostrovsky stated.

“Georgia led by sick people”

Georgia’s former Defence Minister, Giya Karkarashvili does not believe claims of an uncovered coup attempt, with Karkarashvili slamming the current Georgian government to Interfax, while noting that he has no detailed information on the situation at the Mukhrovansky tank battalion.

“Georgia today is in the hands of sick people who write the scenarios themselves, act them out themselves, make a movie, and then show it to society in order to intimidate it.”

One of the leaders of the Georgian opposition and a former Saakashvili supporter Georgy Khaindrava said to the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the military mutiny in Georgia was “without any doubt” organized by the Georgian authorities themselves.

“In reality, there was no mutiny. Mikhail Saakashvili understands that he is completely losing control over the country, and he has thought out that scary story,” Khaindrava added.

“Saakashvili cannot do anything with the problems that Georgia is facing because he has no resources,” Khaindrava also said to Vesti TV channel. “That is why he artificially creates problems and then solves them – thus creating the picture of still having some influence.”

In his turn, the President of the Union of Georgians in Russia, Mikhail Khubutia, said to the Interfax news agency that he is 80 per cent sure that the events presented by the Georgian authorities as a military mutiny with Russia behind it, are staged.

Khubutia says he believes that this situation is beneficial for Saakashvili as it destabilizes the situation in the country, and distracts the population from real Georgian problems.

“Claiming that Russia is allegedly destabilizing Georgia, Saakashvili makes PR for himself. The less stable the situation is in Georgia, the better is for Saakashvili,” Khubutia said.

Georgia increases military presence at the border – Abkhazian President

There’s a movement of armed units on the Georgian side of the border with Abkhazia, the republic’s President, Sergey Bagapsh, has told Interfax.

“It’s hard to say whether it is connected with recent events in Georgia or with upcoming NATO drills,” he said.

The President also noted that there has been no increase in Abkhaz or Russian forces on the border, which is being guarded as usual.

Is this the time for NATO drills?

NATO is refusing to comment on the situation in Georgia. Nevertheless, the alliance is determined to carry out its military drills in the country.

“We are not commenting on the situation in Georgia,” stated Carmen Romero, a NATO representative.

As for the exercises which are due to start on Wednesday, Romero noted that all plans “remain intact."

During her statement to ITAR-TASS, Romero carefully attempted not to use the phrase “military mutiny."

And Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, has criticized the military exercises due to commence on Wednesday.

“It would be more logical to hold military drills in a mad-house. It would be more appropriate in the current situation. The fact that NATO persists in carrying out the drills shows the alliance is a mediator of aggression,” Rogozin told RT.

Nine NATO countries and four partner-countries are to take part in the military exercises, said a spokesperson for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), which is the central command for NATO military forces.

The alliance will be represented by Albania, Canada, Croatia, Spain, the UK, Greece, Hungary, Turkey and the US. Within the framework of the “Partnership for Peace” program, countries including Ukraine, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia are also taking part. The SHAPE representative didn’t name the two countries whose participation is still under question, but according to some sources they are Azerbaijan and the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, Armenia’s Defense Ministry has confirmed they will not take part in the upcoming NATO military exercises “because of the current situation”, the Ministry’s statement says.

Too many coups d’etat

Allegations of plotting coup d’etat are not that rare in Georgia. March 2009 was marked with a scandal when the Georgian Interior Ministry published video footage which it says shows members of the opposition party, headed by Nino Burdzhanadze, illegally buying arms.

The Georgian Interior Ministry rushed to label these actions as plotting a coup d’etat in the country, and targeting Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, whom the opposition is calling to resign.

Nine members of the Georgian opposition party “Democratic movement – United Georgia” remain in custody to date without having had official charges brought against them.

Speaking on Tuesday, Burdzhanadze said she had little trust in the coup allegations voiced by the Interior Ministry.

“Of course I don’t believe the footage, because recently our public had good lessons and learned that it’s all absolutely absurd.

“I deny that the Georgian military could play a Russian scenario, as the Interior Ministry alleges. These very soldiers fought heroically in Tskhinvali region [the name is used in Georgia to refer to South Ossetia], when their commander-in-chief fled,” Burdzhanadze said.

Another opposition leader, David Gamkrelidze, said he suspected that the mutiny might be a public stunt organized by the government.

“What we saw resembled a one-actor theatre, where one man named people and painted apocalyptic pictures of exiles returning to the country and killing renowned politicians,” he told News-Georgia agency.

Salome Zurabishvili from the “Way of Georgia” movement labelled the events “a virtual reality."

On April the 9th, on the 20th anniversary of a Soviet crackdown on a pro-independence rally when dozens died, the Georgian opposition began a campaign of civil disorder and conducted a series of rallies in the center of the Georgian capital Tbilisi that gathered dozens of thousands of protesters demanding Mikhail Saakashvili to resign.

Despite the fact that opposition members were beaten up several times, and the opposition’s tent camp in the middle of Tbilisi was raided and ransacked, the Georgian opposition has promised that their protests are entering the ‘active phase,’ threatening to distract Mikhail Saakashvili's ability to move around the capital.

Protesters are also picketing the Georgia Public Television headquarters to compel the TV channel's chiefs and employees to give objective coverage of the events in Georgia.

On Friday, the opposition was planning to block roads leading from Tbilisi. However after news of the coup broke on Tuesday, it decided to postpone the action for three days, according to National Forum, one of the protesting groups.