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Russia Denies Involvement In Alleged Georgian Military Coup

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (right) talks with soldiers who took part in a mutiny at the Mukhrovani military base on May 5.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (right) talks with soldiers who took part in a mutiny at the Mukhrovani military base on May 5.

Twenty-four hours after the Georgian authorities announced the surrender of most participants in a mutiny at the Mukhrovani military base east of Tbilisi, the circumstances surrounding the alleged coup and the motives of the participants remain unclear. At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry has emphatically rejected as "preposterous" allegations that the mutineers were acting at Moscow's behest.

A Georgian Interior Ministry statement on May 5 quoted the unnamed organizers of the mutiny as saying their primary intent was to disrupt the NATO Partnership for Peace military exercise scheduled to begin in Georgia on May 6. Caucasus Press quoted Mamuka Gorgishvili, the commander of one of the tank units at Mukhrovani, as saying that he and his men wanted to expedite a dialogue between the Georgian authorities and opposition protesters.

In his televised address to the nation on May 5 before the announcement that the abortive insurrection had been quashed, President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Russia of intensifying its pressure on Georgia in recent weeks. He did not explicitly name Russia in connection with the mutiny. But in a clear allusion to Russia, he claimed that "one group of former military officials, whose links with the agents of one particular country is well-known for us, tried and is trying to organize unrest in the Mukhrovani military unit."

Meanwhile, the Georgian Interior Ministry released film footage on May 5 showing a man believed to be former senior Defense Ministry official Gia Gvaladze discussing plans for the insurrection with several other persons whose identity is not clear.

Gvaladze named several other former senior officials, including two Shevardnadze-era defense ministers, Gia Karkarashvili and David Tevzadze; Jemal Gakhokidze, who served as national security minister under Shevardnadze; and Koba Kobaladze, who stepped down in February 2004 as commander of the National Guard. Kobaladze headed an informal club of former military generals that harshly criticized Saakashvili for precipitating the August war in South Ossetia. He was arrested on May 5.

Gakhokidze was quoted by Caucasus Press on May 5 as denying any involvement in the mutiny. He said he has not seen the persons identified by the Interior Ministry as plotters for five years. Tevzadze and Karkarashvili have likewise denied any connection with the events at Mukhrovani.

The Interior Ministry made public analogous incriminating film footage in March in a bid to discredit former parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze, who now heads the Democratic Movement--United Georgia, one of the opposition parties that joined forces to launch a wave of protests on April 9 to demand Saakashvili's resignation. David Gamkrelidze, co-leader of the Alliance for Georgia that is also participating in those ongoing protests, called on the Georgian leadership on May 5 to convene an international investigation of the events surrounding the alleged mutiny.

Georgian media report that 13 civilians and up to 50 officers have been arrested, and that a further 500 servicemen from the Mukhrovani base are being questioned. The Interior Ministry on May 6 offered a reward of 50,000 laris ($30,000) for information leading to the arrest of any one of three men it has identified as playing a key role in the mutiny, and who reportedly escaped from Mukhrovani. They are Koba Otanadze, former commander of a spetsnaz battalion based at Mukhrovani; Zaza Mushkudiani, who commanded a military unit in Tbilisi; and Levan Amiradze. Otanadze reportedly participated in the botched rebellion at Mukhrovani in May 2001.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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