Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 194

President Eduard Shevardnadze and the Defense and State Security Ministries announced yesterday that the Zviadist-military rebellion in western Georgia–which erupted in the predawn hours of October 19–has unraveled. Shevardnadze put the size of the rebel force at 400 men and twenty-two tanks and APCs, almost twice the numbers officially cited the previous day. The rebel force gave up when stronger army units stopped its attempt to capture Georgia’s second-largest city, Kutaisi. Most rebels agreed to return to the Senaki barracks in return for legal immunity, on the grounds that they were “misled” into joining the mutiny. However, mutiny leader Lieutenant-Colonel Akaki Eliava with “several dozen” supporters and several armored vehicles retreated into the forests of Mingrelia, hoping for support from diehard followers of the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.

According to Shevardnadze, the rebels demanded his resignation as president and “restoration of the legitimate authority,” that is, of Zviadist rule. The president and other senior officials, however, suggested that the mutiny’s immediate aim was to undermine international confidence in Georgia’s reliability as a transit route for Caspian oil. Shevardnadze and Georgia Oil Corporation chairman Giorgi Chanturia pointed a finger at “forces” in Russia interested in destabilizing Georgia and in foiling the planned transit pipeline.

Those forces in Russia are not necessarily anonymous. After the mutiny had begun, Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev lost no time in describing the rebels as “quite a serious force” and publicly urging Tbilisi to enter into a “political dialogue” with them (Itar-Tass, October 20). The governmental “Rossiiskaya gazeta” urged Georgia to come up with a “political and legal assessment” of the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia–an obvious encouragement to Zviadists, who claim that Shevardnadze usurped power from them. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) announced yesterday that it is resuming work on the Georgian stretch of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline. The rebellion had forced the AIOC to interrupt that work. Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev strongly reaffirmed his solidarity with Shevardnadze and support for Georgia’s independence (Georgian television and radio, Kavkazia-Press, Turan, October 20; Rossiiskaya gazeta, October 21).

The rebellion’s failure shows yet again that Zviadism can no longer count on popular support in western Georgia; that the Zviadist nucleus in Tbilisi, however persistent, is too small and too factionalized for any effective political action; and that the army as a whole is loyal to the government, as is the entire military command. At the same time, the rebellion shows that even a small, diehard Zviadist group has the capacity to provoke internal unrest with international reverberations and to maintain a degree of political uncertainty in Mingrelia for some time to come (background in the Monitor, October 20).