Unpaid, impatient Georgian soldiers back at work - for now
MOSCOW - Frustrated by months without pay, a battalion of the Georgian Republic's national guard took its armored vehicles on the road without warning or permission yesterday and seized a military base close to the capital, Tbilisi.
The movement prompted fears of a coup d'etat. It took a meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and rebellious officers to restore calm: the president said late yesterday that the 300 to 400 mutinous troops had agreed to return to their garrison today.
For the one-time Soviet foreign minister, who was Mikhail Gorbachev's top diplomat during the "perestroika" era, it was the latest demonstration of survival skills. He has managed to stay in power since 1992 despite a string of civil wars and attempted coups and assassinations.
But some wonder whether his luck might be starting to run out.
"People don't want to go hungry and naked any more. Salaries to the military and the police haven't been paid for eight to 11 months," said Ivlian Khaindrava, a prominent political analyst in Georgia. "Right now the position of Shevardnadze is the weakest in years."
Shevardnadze was re-elected last year, but unless the economy improves he may face other challenges, Khaindrava said.
Some soldiers appeared before TV cameras in masks, saying desperate financial straits sparked their action. "This is the only way we can draw attention to ourselves," said one.