Georgia said on Tuesday a Russian-planned coup plot had been uncovered within the military of the former Soviet republic and a rebellion was under way at a military base near the capital.
The Interior Ministry said those involved in the plot had received money from Russia which has criticised Nato military exercises in Georgia due to begin on Wednesday.
”The main aim of this uprising was to disrupt the Nato military exercises,” Defence Minister David Sikharulidze told Reuters. ”We are in negotiations with the soldiers at the Mukhrovani base and I hope this uprising will end soon.”
Sikharulidze said the commanders of the military base 19km from the capital Tbilisi had been dismissed and the soldiers confined to barracks.
The Interior Ministry said one person had been arrested.
”They [the plotters] were receiving money from Russia,” ministry spokesperson Shota Utiashvili told a news conference. ”It seems it was coordinated with Russia.”
Last August Russia and Georgia fought a five-day war when Moscow crushed a Georgian assault on pro-Russia South Ossetia.
That slammed the brakes on Georgia’s bid for membership of Nato which the Kremlin fiercely opposes as an encroachment on its ex-Soviet backyard.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has been the target of weeks of opposition protests in Tbilisi over his record on democracy and the war with Russia.
ITAR-Tass news agency quoted an unnamed Russian security source as rejecting suggestions Moscow was behind the Georgian coup. ”This is a nightmare and an agony for the Saakashvili regime,” he said. ”One cannot describe this in a different way.”
Nato declines comment
Nato declined to comment on the news out of Georgia.
Nato’s military exercises this week are a gesture of solidarity condemned by Russia as ”muscle-flexing”.
About 1 000 soldiers from over a dozen Nato member states and partners will practice ”crisis response” at a Georgian army base east of Tbilisi, around 70km from the nearest Russian troop positions in breakaway South Ossetia.
The month-long exercises at a former Russian air force base in Vaziani are seen as a signal from the 28-member alliance that, despite doubts over the promise of eventual membership, Georgia has not been forgotten.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the decision to go ahead with the exercises was wrong and dangerous.
”I want to specifically stress that responsibility for possible negative consequences of these decisions will fully rest on the shoulders of those who made them and carry them out,” he said on Friday.
Nato and Russia last week resumed formal contacts suspended over the war when the West accused Moscow of a ”disproportionate” response to Georgia’s assault on separatists in South Ossetia.
But the exercises, coupled with the expulsion last week of two Russian diplomats from Nato over a spying scandal and a Russian decision to take control of South Ossetia’s borders, had put the relationship under renewed pressure.
The next round of talks between Russia and Georgia on South Ossetia, shepherded by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), European Union and United Nations, is due to be held in Geneva in May 18 and 19. – Reuters