President Eduard Shevardnadze is, by all accounts, a smooth talker, and that skill came in handy on May 25, when he managed personally to talk some 500 heavily armed soldiers from one of the country’s National Guard battalions out of mutinying. The men had quit their garrison outside the capital, Tbilisi, in order to protest appalling conditions, including the fact their salaries had not been paid for fourteen months. The mutineers had then occupied an interior ministry base, where another 500 soldiers joined their protest. After Shevardnadze arrived on the scene and promised the mutineers they would not be prosecuted and that the government would be “more attentive to the situation in the armed forces,” they returned to their base. In a sad further commentary on Georgia’s financial decrepitude, the national guardsmen had to leave behind two tanks that had run out of gas.

Following the incident, Shevardnadze, who has survived two assassination attempts, declared that the state was “no less guilty” than the mutineers for the incident, which would not have happened “in normal conditions.”

While the Georgian leader’s comments were magnanimous, given that the gravity of the rebellious soldiers actions, they were also a tribute to his amazing ability to create a disconnect between his own governance and the country’s parlous state. Earlier in the month, for example, Shevardnadze had complained that efforts to fight corruption were being hindered by the interests of specific “clans” and “political groups.” One never would have guessed that some of the country’s most outrageous corruption cases–like the one involving accusations that pension fund and social security officials had been pocketing the pensions of as many as 35,000 deceased citizens for years–involved friends and/or relatives of the Georgian president, who somehow managed to escape prosecution.

This issue was written by Jonas Bernstein.