06 May 2009
Georgia's Alleged Anti-NATO Mutiny
The Saakashvili administration puts down an anti-NATO mutiny allegedly backed by Moscow, Giorgi Lomsadze reports for EurasiaNet.
By Giorgi Lomsadze in Tbilisi for EurasiaNet
On the eve of controversial 6 May exercises to be held by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Georgian government quickly suppressed a military rebellion that it claims was backed by Moscow. According to officials in Tbilisi, the revolt supposedly aimed to oust President Mikheil Saakashvili from power, and to redirect Georgia’s foreign policy orientation back toward Russia.
The mutiny at the Mukhrovani base, a tank battalion camp roughly 20 kilometers away from Tbilisi, was reported squelched by late afternoon on 5 May after the Ministry of Defense rushed columns of tanks and troops to the scene. Saakashvili said that he had given a one-hour deadline to the rebels to surrender before pro-government forces would open fire.
Seven military officers and 13 civilians have so far been arrested in connection with the abortive uprising.
Mukhrovani commander Colonel Mamuka Gorgiashvili, ex-Ministry of Defense special task force commander Gia Ghvaladze, Maj.-Gen. Koba Kobaladze, a former National Guard commander, and military analyst Vakhtang Maisaia are among the detainees who have been named.
Two chiefs of staff of a regiment stationed at Ortachala, a Tbilisi suburb, are also wanted in connection with the mutiny.
In a televised speech, Saakashvili identified the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercises as the key motivation for the plot. Saakashvili also mentioned Georgia’s growing ties with the European Union, as evidenced by its participation in a May 6-8 Prague meeting of the European Council.
The government stated that it learned about the alleged mutiny late in the evening of May 4, after the arrest of former special task forces commander Ghvaladze. In video footage released by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ghvaladze was shown discussing the details of the plot with two unseen men.
According to Ghvaladze, 5,000 Russian troops would invade Georgian-controlled territory from the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Near Tbilisi, they would be joined by two Georgian army regiments and together would seize the capital and slay Saakashvili. Russian officials have denied the allegations that Moscow was somehow connected to the rebellion.
Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Bokeria, Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee Chairman Givi Targamadze, and Liberty Institute Director Levan Ramishvili, an influential theorist for the 2003 Rose Revolution, would also be killed.
The invading force would then take hold of the presidential administration, general prosecutor’s office, Interior Ministry, and blow up the pro-government Rustavi-2 television station and the central railway station, Ghvaladze claimed.
The ex-commander stated that fresh elections would be held after Saakashvili’s overthrow; the new government, he said, would drop Georgia’s NATO and European integration aspirations, and bring Georgia back to the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States that unites many former Soviet republics.
In a second video recording, Ghvaladze stated that Russia would hand over $2 million -- $3 million for Saakashvili’s overthrow. Mention is also made of 8 million -- 10 million euros.
Ghvaladze claimed that generals who held prominent army posts under ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze and several fugitive officials were involved in the plot. Former Defense Minister David Tevzadze and Former Security Minister Jemal Gakhokidze were also named.
One of the generals implicated by Ghvaladze, Gia Karkarashvili, has since been thanked by the Interior Ministry for his role in preventing the attempt to kill Interior Minister Merabishvili.
Karkarashvili, a supporter of opposition leader Irakli Alasania, gave EurasiaNet a video recording, in which an unnamed man tells him how he was invited to participate in the mutiny. "This is serious. . . . It is really happening," the man said. Karkarashvili and Alasania both declined to answer questions.
In a later interview with Tbilisi’s pro-opposition Kavkasia television, Karkarashvili expressed frustration that the government had not moved earlier to stop the mutineers.
Some opposition leaders indicated that they believe the Interior Ministry staged the mutiny in a bid to prop up Saakashvili’s authority. For almost a month, his administration has been confronted with daily protests seeking his resignation. "Misha [Mikheil Saakashvili] thought that the protests had lost momentum and with his talentless movies, he will now bring even more people into the streets," ex-Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, leader of the Georgia’s Way party, told a crowd on 5 May.
Protestor plans to block roads leading into Tbilisi, though, have since been scuttled.
The opposition protests figured in Saakashvili’s televised speech. The president suggested that the pro-Moscow coup conspirators were seeking to take advantage of the political uncertainty in Tbilisi. "The calculation was that mass arrests or other types of violence would take place in the middle of the Georgian capital and then scenarios would be put into action against Georgia’s sovereignty . . . against Georgia’s European and Euro-Atlantic integration," he said.
Saakashvili and other government officials have previously hinted that Russian financing is somehow supporting the protesters. They have never produced any evidence of a Russian connection, though.
The president insisted that since the opposition protests began in April, his administration has shown restraint, as well as a continuing willingness to engage in dialogue out of a desire "not to give an excuse to our enemy."
"We believe that always, in all situations, dialogue is the solution" Saakashvili added, in apparent reference to recent offers of "dialogue" with the opposition.
Late in the afternoon, Georgian television carried footage of Saakashvili talking to some of the soldiers who had been based at Mukhrovani, but who were apparently no part of the conspiracy. "How could you let these people [mutineers] into your unit?" Saakashvili asked the soldiers, as they stood lined up in front of him outside the base. "I did everything for you and your unit."
Interior Minister Merabishvili also came in for a televised dressing-down. "[Y]ou knew that these people have done nothing good for Georgia," the president fumed at Merabishvili in a Mukhrovani base office in reference to the mutiny’s organizers. "These are people with a criminal mentality and we knew this . . . These people should not have been free for all this time."
"This liberalism has already become dangerous," he continued. "I will no longer tolerate it."
Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi.
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