View Full Version : Powell trip to Georgia could mark start of civil war

lucky wilbury
01-23-2004, 11:08 PM

Powell trip to Georgia could mark start of civil war
By Dick Carlson and Bill Regardie

Secretary of State Colin Powell plans to attend the inauguration of Georgia's new president Mikhail Saakashvilli this weekend, offering Saakashvilli a symbolic stamp of U.S. approval. In addition to the planned festivities of singers, acrobats, dancing bears and a military parade, Powell may be stepping into the beginning of a civil war set off by the new president himself.

Sources close to the president of a small Georgian republic, the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, say the Adjarans have uncovered a secret plot by Saakashvilli to seize the republic and its port capitol of Batumi in the aftermath of Sunday's inaugural celebration. Adjarans believe that as soon as Powell leaves Georgia the new president intends to strike against them.

The Adjarans, 400,000 citizens with no army but many guns, this week encouraged their police, customs and border guards, about 5,000 in all, to repel what they fear will be an invasion. A friend of the Adjaran president, a former U.S. intelligence officer with vast international connections, Chet Nagle, flew from Istanbul, Turkey this week and delivered a letter yesterday from Adjaran President Aslan Abashidze to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at his Hill office asking for his support to "prevent the tragedy of civil war."

Georgia has an army of some 30,000 troops, lots of equipment, and U.S. military trainers and equipment, including some advanced attack helicopters Adjara, as an autonomous republic, has its own constitution and laws but does not print money or engage in foreign policy. Aslan Abashidze is the elected president of Adjara and from a family well-known for 600 years in Georgia. Abashidze is disliked by the Georgian government but very much liked by the Adjarans whom he has governed in a strict but democratic fashion. Abashidze is a Christian, as is much of Adjara, but he is famous for his kind treatment of the republic's tight-knit group of about 500 Jewish families. Abashidze ousted Russian troops from the old synagogue in the capital city of Batumi -- they had been using the temple as a "sports club" -- rebuilt it and gave it back to the Jews.

President Saakashvilli was thrilled by Powell's announcement two weeks ago that he would travel to Georgia for the swearing-in. "This has virtually not happened in history," he gushed to the Georgian press. The ousted former president Eduard Shervardnadze was a close friend of former Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker and popular with western foreign policy non-governmental organizations. But Shevarnadze was seen as a fellow who favored Russia over the United States. The issues here are oil and NATO expansion. The pipeline carrying oil from the big Caspian Sea fields goes through the territory, and there are some pesky Russian troops in Georgia. They are there by invitation to safeguard Russian ethnic minorities, and to look out for Chechen terrorists.

Here is the plan our sources in Adjara believe is the likely scenario for the seizure of their republic: Initial indications from Georgia's State Chancellery were that the inauguration would be held Sunday in the Gelati Monastery, not far from Tbilisi because President Saakashvilli didn't want to evoke associations with Eduard Shevardnadze, by holding the ceremony held outside the Tiblisi parliament building.

Also, Sunday, Jan. 25 is Schevardnadze's birthday. But the monastery seemed unsuitable for the size of the planned ceremony and celebration so the Adjarans now say it will be in Kutaisi in the Republic of Georgia, a small city in the Caucasian mountains. At the ceremony will be a military parade, the first ever held in Georgia at an inauguration. Why Kutaisi instead of the capital, Tbilisi or at the monastery? Adjaran sources say because it is so much closer to Adjara and the troops won't have far to march. Adjaran president Abashidze has told friends and supporters that the plot calls for the Georgian soldiers to go to Poti, a port city on the Black Sea near the
border with Adjara. They will join the Georgian garrison there, cross the border by force of arms, and attack the capitol of Adjara, Batumi, with some 2,000 regulars and seize control of Adjara.

Russia's intelligence service is highly competent and the Russian government, presumably aware of this plot, has been making public noises of "concern" over "tension in Georgia." The Russians are resentful of U.S.-sponsored NATO pressure to push them out of every country except their own.

Turkey is interested too, since they guarantee the constitution of Adjara by the 1921 treaty of Kars. Besides being bad for the health of women and children, the impending civil war in Georgia has serious regional and international implications.