Georgia accuses Russia of backing attempted coup

Officials in Tbilisi say a revolt at an Army base was part of an attempt to disrupt the government and had support from Russia.

David Mdzinarishvili
Tanks approach the Mukhrovani army base where soldiers have staged a mutiny, some 6 miles east of Tbilisi, Georgia on Tuesday. The Georgian government accused Russia of financing a coup, something Moscow has denied.

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Georgian officials have described a revolt that broke out at an Army base near the capital of Tbilisi Tuesday as part of a military coup that has Russian backing.

According to the Georgian Defense Ministry, the commanders of the Mukhrovani Army base have been dismissed and the soldiers confined to barracks. But the situation is yet to be brought under control as only one arrest has been made.

The revolt comes a day before NATO military exercises were scheduled to begin in Georgia. Around 1,000 soldiers from 19 member states and partners are to practice "crisis response" at the Vaziani Army base, which lies east of Tbilisi, 44 miles from Russian troop positions in South Ossetia. Russia has complained that the NATO exercises are "provocative" in the wake of the brief war between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in August 2008. Russia has stationed about 10,000 troops in the breakaway provinces.

According to the Associated Press, several hundred Army personnel and some civilians are involved in Tuesday's revolt.

A tank battalion mutinied Tuesday at a Georgian military base near the capital and several hundred army personnel were refusing to follow orders, Defense Minister David Sikharulidze said....
Sikharulidze said he had been blocked from entering the military base in Mukhrovani, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Tbilisi, the capital.
Among the mutineers were civilians who had no relation to the battalion, he said.

The Georgian government claims that the mutiny was aimed at disrupting the NATO exercises and overthrowing the government, reports Civil Georgia, an online news service run by the UN Association of Georgia.

The Georgian Interior Ministry said earlier that "a full-scale" military mutiny was planned in the Georgian army by some former military officials, who were "in coordination with Russia."
"As it seems this mutiny was coordinated with Russia and aimed at minimum thwarting NATO military exercises and maximum organizing full-scale military mutiny in the country," Shota Utiashvili, head of the information and analytical department of the Interior Ministry, said on May 5.

The government accused a former special forces commander of masterminding the alleged coup attempt, reports the BBC.

The interior ministry told the BBC that the plotters wanted to destabilise Georgia and assassinate President Saakashvili.
Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said one of the suspected coup leaders - former special forces commander Georgy Gvaladze - was arrested. But an alleged co-plotter - former chief of special forces Koba Otanadze - was still at large.
The spokesman said the government had been aware of the plot for two months. The rebellion appeared to be "co-ordinated with Russia", the interior ministry said.

According to The Times of London, news of the suspected coup plot and the tank battalion mutiny come at a time when Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili is facing stiff opposition and sustained calls for his resignation.

The uprising was linked to discontent over the political situation in Georgia, [an Interior Ministry spokesman] added. Opposition parties began street demonstrations on April 9 to force Mr Saakashvili [to resign] but support for the protest has been dwindling.

President Saakashvili is seen as authoritarian and incapable of managing the threat posed by Russia, reports the London-based daily The Guardian. Opposition politicians accuse Saakashvili of presiding over an increasingly authoritarian and repressive regime. Several senior figures in Saakashvili's government have defected to the opposition, accusing him of starting an unwinnable war that enabled Russia to strengthen its grip on the rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

According to the Turkish daily Hurriyet, the Russian government has rejected Georgia's allegations that it was behind the alleged coup plot, and NATO declined to comment.

Bloomberg reports that the situation between Georgia and Russia has been tense, with Georgia objecting to Russian troop presence in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Russia acknowledged as sovereign nations after the war last August.

Russia has deployed more than 10,000 soldiers in two breakaway Georgian regions, thousands more than previously announced, the Georgian Foreign Ministry said.
"We have serious grounds to believe that Russia has more than 10,000 troops in the two regions, not 3,700 in each as they have claimed," Zurab Kachkachishvili, head of the ministry's political department, told reporters in Tbilisi today....
"Even a single soldier on our territory amounts to an occupation," Kachkachishvili said. "The fact that thousands are there is a clear provocation."

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that Georgia remains the focal point in tensions between Russia, NATO, and the United States.

Last week, [Russian President Dimitri] Medvedev signed an agreement allowing Russia to put its own border guards in South Ossetia and Abkhazia....
The U.S. State Department responded quickly that the Russian move in the quasi-annexed Georgian regions was a violation of Georgian territorial integrity that caused "serious concern."
But Mr. Medvedev seemed to be getting just what he wanted: a whipsaw situation of heightened tensions in which he could scare some European NATO allies that regard the Georgian government as threateningly unstable; and the future use of those tensions to bring pressure on Mr. Obama as the opportunity arises.
At the same time last week, Mr. Medvedev described as "provocative" NATO exercises scheduled to begin in Georgia on Wednesday (Russia turned down an invitation to participate in them); they involve no heavy equipment or arms and concentrate on things like disaster response and search and rescue.
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