Tank Battalion Mutinies At Georgian Military Base
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's get an update now from the Republic of Georgia. Authorities there say they've put down an uprising at a Georgian military base. This is a story that keeps changing throughout the morning, and NPR's Gregory Feifer is tracking the changes and sorting them out. From Moscow, Greg, good morning.
GREGORY FEIFER: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Or I should say good afternoon in Moscow. What happened in Georgia?
FEIFER: Well, President Mikheil Saakashvili says the authorities have put down a rebellion at a tank battalion base about 15 miles outside the capital, Tbilisi. The defense minister said that the rebellion began early in the morning, and that the commanding officer of the base had been arrested and that the mutiny had been put down, that the situation in Tbilisi is calm at the moment.
INSKEEP: When you say a rebellion, an uprising, do have actual reports of shooting between Georgian forces and other Georgian forces?
FEIFER: We have no clear reports. Witnesses in Tbilisi say they saw helicopters and tanks and armored personnel carriers moving toward the base, but there have been no reports about how this mutiny was put down. The government had said that they were negotiating, that, in fact, President Saakashvili himself said he had taken part in negotiations with the rioting soldiers.
INSKEEP: So we have an unclear situation developing here, but it's of great interest because it is the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. It's become a pawn in this battle between Russia and the West. Russia actually won a war in Georgia last year. There's still troops in the country. They still have huge influence. And if I'm not mistaken, the Georgians have been claiming at some point today that the Russians were somehow involved in this uprising.
FEIFER: That's right. The spokesman for the Interior Ministry spoke to reporters and said that investigators had uncovered a coup plot to overthrow President Saakashvili, and that the plotters were financed by Russia. He also said that the uprising at the military base was part of this, but later, Interior Ministry officials played this down, saying that the uprising was really meant to disrupt exercises by NATO countries planned to begin in Georgia tomorrow.
INSKEEP: Okay. Let's try to sort this out. So the mutineers allegedly - and we're only hearing partial reports here - weren't trying to overthrow the government, but they wanted to stop or disrupt NATO's influence inside this country that would very much like to be part of NATO?
FEIFER: That's right. The defense minister, when he spoke this morning, said that he believed the mutiny at the base was directed at disrupting these peacekeeping exercises that are set to begin tomorrow. Of course, Russia is very upset over Georgia's desire to join NATO. And Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called these planned exercises dangerous. He said that they are a straightforward provocation against Russia.
INSKEEP: So a tense situation between NATO and Russia, but I want to come back, Gregory, to this little former Soviet republic and these allegations of some kind of rebellion or uprising today that gets blamed on Russia. Isn't this happening at a time when there are all kinds of protests against the government of Mikheil Saakashvili?
FEIFER: That's right. And, of course, we should remember that politics in the Caucasus region, where Georgia's located, are never simple. There is an ongoing protest movement against President Saakashvili. In fact, opposition leaders said that today they had planned to cut off the main routes into the capital, Tbilisi. The government said it ordered these routes to stay open, these roads, in connection with the attempted - the allegations of the attempted coup plot. So the situation in Georgian, in Tbilisi, is very precarious, and there are no signs that the standoff between Saakashvili and the opposition is easing. And, of course, all of this is going on in the aftermath of Georgia's conflict with Russian last summer.
INSKEEP: Gregory, thanks very much.
FEIFER: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Gregory Feifer in Moscow.
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