A commander of a military unit, which staged mutiny on Tuesday morning, and his associates from the same unit have been arrested, while some remain at large, Vano Merabishvili, the Georgian interior minister said.
Over 500 servicemen from the unit have been transferred to the base of fourth battalion and are undergoing questioning, he told President Saakashvili.
Merabishvili was speaking with the President in the Mukhrovani base. The video footage aired by the television stations showed Saakashvili, Merabishvili, as well as Justice Minister, Zurab Adeishvili, and other officials standing in a room, described to be the one of Colonel Mamuka Gorgiashvili, the commander of the military unit.
“What does he [the commander] is saying? What did he want?” Saakashvili asked Merabishvili. The latter responded that Col. Gorgiashvili was questioned.
Earlier on Tuesday Saakashvili said in a televised address to the nation that he was personally engaged in negotiations with mutineers, including with Col. Gorgiashvili.
He told Merabishvili: “When I spoke with him, he could not explain properly anything… As I guessed he wanted to win some time, as he seemed to be expecting something. But I told him that we were giving him an hour long deadline [to surrender].”
“According to the information available for us, which we have already made public, they had far-reaching goals like inviting Russians,” Merabishvili told the President. “We will further make public other evidence.”
“I also want to tell you,” Merabishvili continued, “that we are arresting several people having links with Russians. We have already arrested Gen. [Koba] Kobaladze [a former commander of the national guard].”
When Merabishvili mentioned the name of Kobaladze, Saakashvili interrupted him and said: “We should have dealt with Gen. Kobaladze much earlier.”
“We knew and you knew that these people have done nothing good for Georgia; these are the people with criminal mentality and we knew this… These people should not have been free for all this time” Saakashvili said, referring to Kobaladze and Koba Otanadze, a former defense official, who according to the Interior Ministry, was among organizers of the mutiny and is now at large.
Saakashvili then said: “This liberalism has already become dangerous. I am no longer going to tolerate it; these people are criminals.”
In a separate video footage, Saakashvili is seen talking with soldiers from the military unit.
“What did those criminals doing in your unit?” Saakashvili tells a group of soldiers lined up outside the military unit headquarters. “You let those people inside the unit and you were not allowing our representatives.”
“I know that probably you have been fooled,” Saakashvili continued after a short pause.
“Your commander was telling me, that he had to stay on base [and continue mutiny] for two days and he was repeating it ‘two days’ hysterically,” Saakashvili said. “Even he could not understand what he was babbling; he was only repeating – ‘two days’, ‘two days’, ‘we have two-day disobedience and let’s see then’. I wonder whom you were waiting for these two days, who was coming to help Gorgiashvili or each of you?”
“Did your silly commanders think that I was Eduard Shevardnadze,” Saakashvili told the soldiers, referring to the past case of mutiny in Mukhrovani.
In 2001, the servicemen of the National Guard stationed in Mukhrovani mutinied with social demands. Then President Shevardnadze pardoned mutineers, including Koba Otanadze, who was serving in the unit at that time.
The first unofficial reports about mutiny in Mukhrovani military unit emerged before the noon on May 5.
At noon Shota Utiashvili, head of the Interior Ministry’s information and analytical department, convened a press conference and said that the Georgian law enforcement agencies had uncovered plot to stage a mutiny in the Georgian army. He also said that the law enforcement agencies had been probing into information of possible mutiny in the army for past two months.
He said that the plotted mutiny “at minimum aimed at thwarting NATO military exercises and maximum - organizing full-scale military mutiny in the country.”
After that news conference, Defense Minister, Davit Sikharulidze, said that a tank battalion at a military unit in Mukhrovani “has announced about disobedience” and staged a mutiny.
“A larger scale mutiny was planned and it aimed at thwarting NATO exercises and an overall goal was to overthrow the government with use of military force,” Sikharulidze said.
The Interior Ministry said that it had arrested Gia Gvaladze, who was commander of the Defense Ministry’s special task force in 1990s, in connection with plotting of the mutiny.
The Interior Ministry has also released a video footage, recorded apparently with a body-worn covert camera and showing a man, purportedly Gia Gvaladze, talking to several persons – one whose face was blurred in order not to identify him and another one to whom the body-worn camera was attached.
When speaking about the planned mutiny Gvaladze mentions names of former senior military and security officials, including of Davit Tevzadze, a former defense minister; Jemal Gakhokidze, a former security minister; Koba Kobaladze, a former commander of national guard and Gia Karkarashvili, a commander of the Georgian army during the Abkhaz war in early 90s. Karkarashvili is now affiliated with Irakli Alasania’s political team, part of opposition Alliance for Georgia. Gvaladze says that these people would be supporting the planned mutiny.
Shota Utiashvili of the Interior Ministry said that the investigation was ongoing to uncover plotters’ other possible associates.
The law enforcement officers were sealing off the area around the Mukhrovani base keeping journalists and other civilians in distance. Two small Tbilisi-based television stations, Maestro and Kavkasia said their reporters were not allowed inside the military base when President Saakashvili and other officials arrived there after the incident was over. Only the journalists and cameramen from the national television stations were allowed to accompany the leadership inside the base, according to Maestro and Kavkasia TV.
Dozens of battle tanks and the Interior Ministry’s light armored vehicles, Cobra, were seen heading toward the base earlier on Tuesday.
Some opposition leaders started questioning an official version of events even before the incident was over at Mukhrovani base.
“We do not believe even slightly that the Georgian army is a victim of the Russian provocations and is engaged in the Russia’s provocations,” Zviad Dzidziguri, co-leader of Conservative Party, said.
Irakli Alasania, leader of opposition Alliance for Georgia, said he would not make any political assessment, because of lack of information.
Some opposition politicians suggested that the developments in Mukhrovani could have been staged by the authorities to deflect attention from the ongoing street protests.
On Tuesday evening, Irakli Batiashvili of the Republican Party, part of Alliance for Georgia, said it still remained unclear what had really happened in Mukhrovani as no independent verification of reports were yet available.
At about 11:40am on May 5, the Georgian news agency, InterPressNews, posted on its website a brief news with quotes of Col. Gorgiashvili in which the latter indicates that his unit’s move was related with the ongoing protest rallies in Tbilisi, but it was not possible to identify exact motives behind Col. Gorgiashvili based on this report.
“It’s impossible to look indifferently at the process, while the country is collapsing… We can’t stand this confrontation any more; but there will not be any aggressive moves because of that,” InterPressNews reported quoting Col. Gorgiashvili. He also added: “The tank unit remains on high alert and it does not plan to go away from here.”
“We were not intending to make this statement, but the situation has become very tense and is now deadlocked. I see the threat that confrontation may take place with use of arms,” the news agency quoted Col. Gorgiashvili. “The opposition is conveying such information that it becomes obvious that confrontation will take place; it does not matter who will start this confrontation.”
Some politicians and military experts also speculated that mutiny could have been linked with the authorities’ alleged plans to use army forces to break up protest rallies in Tbilisi, but some military officers protested against it and refused to participate. “That could have been the case, but there is lack of independent information to make conclusions,” Gia Karkarashvili, an ally of Irakli Alasania, said.
“There are many versions of what has really happened, but the one offered by the authorities is least credible,” Tina Khidasheli of the opposition Republican Party said late on Tuesday evening.