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Georgia protests revive charges of foreign meddling

Embattled President Saakashvili has accused Russians of financing a popular movement to oust him.

By Correspondent / April 13, 2009

Demonstrators in Tbilisi, Georgia, marched toward President Saakashvili's residence Monday, in the fifth day of protests against his government.

Shakh Aivazov/AP

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MOSCOW – A fresh cycle of "colored revolutions" appears to be shaking the former Soviet Union, and once again fingers are pointed all around at nefarious "foreign interests" aiming to profit from the turmoil.

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Over the past week the post-Soviet states of Moldova and Georgia have both erupted in angry street protests aimed at overthrowing an elected government, which demonstrators claim came to power through fraud and seeks to impose a dictatorship.

It's not the first time for Georgia, which has regularly deposed every elected president since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991.

But Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who himself came to power in the "Rose Revolution" of 2003, sees a Russian conspiracy in the wave of street protests that have been rocking Tbilisi since last week. (For details click here and here.)

Some 20,000 people gathered in Tbilisi's main square Monday, for the fifth day running, to demand Mr. Saakashvili's resignation.

“Most of the money [to finance the protests] comes from Russian oligarchs," Saakashvili told Newsweek correspondent Anna Nemtsova over the weekend. “Whether the money is being sent from Russia under the supervision of the Russian government, that, I do not know.”

Russia rejects blame

Russia denies any involvement, and many Russian experts bristle at the suggestion that the Kremlin could be involved in Georgia's internal politics.

“It's foolish to blame Moscow of being behind these protests, only Saakashvili can possibly believe that," says Mikhail Alexandrov, an expert with the Institute for Commonwealth of Independent States Studies, which is funded by the Russian government. "These protest leaders in Georgia are Saakashvili's former comrades-in-arms and well-known pro-Western politicians."

Similar allegations are flying in Moldova, where Communist President Vladimir Voronin says next-door Romania – a NATO member – orchestrated last week's political rampage through the capital Chisinau by text-messaging and Twittering groups of youths challenging the validity of recent parliamentary elections. Mr. Voronin has defused the crisis for now, by agreeing to a full recount Wednesday.

Fingerpointing redux

If all the conflicting allegations of outside influence sound familiar, they ought to. When pro-Moscow regimes were overthrown in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), and Kyrgyzstan (2005) in very similar upheavals, the Kremlin loudly complained that Western governments were behind the revolts.

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