“I am a Georgian. So I don’t speak for Russian or US interests,” says renowned Georgian newspaper Publisher Malkhaz Gulashvili. As Georgia and the surrounding region undergo further militarization by the two superpowers, Gulashvili provides a radical proposal to help create a peaceful and independent Georgia.
JESSE FREESTON, (VOICEOVER), TRNN: People of Georgia were treated to more military confusion this week as the Georgian government claimed that a tank battalion staged a mutiny, taking control of their base. When they soon surrendered, an embattled Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was quick to assure everyone that the situation was under control. The event caused opposition protesters, who had been in the streets for the past month demanding Saakashvili’s resignation, to cancel a planned blockade of the main highway to the capital. Saakashvili’s administration accused Russian special forces of involvement in the mutiny.
SHOTA UTIASHVILI, GEORGIAN MINISTRY OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS: The information that we have for the moment indicates that there’s a very strong link between the Russian special services and the special people.
FREESTON: In response, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, accused Saakashvili of staging the event. He said, “Georgia today is in the hands of sick people who write the scenarios themselves, act them out themselves, make a movie, and then show it to society in order to intimidate it.” The leaders of Georgia’s opposition echoed this sentiment.
ZVIAD DZID, OPPOSITION LEADER (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): Mikheil Saakashvili has begun to use the Georgian Army for his own political means, in order to prevent the action plan for today by the opposition, the blockading of the central highway. He has offered us a TV show. What we have seen is a TV show, and we will provide proof of it. We do not believe that Russia can exert that kind of control over our army.
FREESTON: The mutiny took place mere hours before 1,300 soldiers representing 19 NATO members and partner states will begin 27 days of joint exercises inside Georgian territory. Russian leaders have repeatedly called the exercise provocative, as they will take place just nine months after the war between Russia and Georgia. While the US administration has talked about improving their relationship with Russia, all major projects that Russia has spoken out against are moving forward, including putting US interceptor missiles in Poland and a US radar station in the Czech Republic. Concurrently, Russia has announced plans to open three military bases inside the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, including a former Soviet naval base on the Black Sea and a former Soviet airbase with the longest runway in the Caucasus. In recent days, Russian TV stations have been airing footage of Russian troops and military gear moving into the breakaway region. Russia calls the moves necessary to deter future Georgian aggression and blames the US for helping to remilitarize Georgia, a claim that is not in dispute, since Georgia’s own defense minister, David [Vasil] Sikharulidze, claimed in a March editorial that thanks to US military aid, “… [Georgia’s] capabilities and tactics will be designed to meet a considerably superior force,” adding that “Georgia will provide logistical support to NATO, opening its territories, ports, airfields, roads and railroads to the alliance.” Motivating all of this is the ongoing battle over the development and distribution of the region’s vast energy supplies. At the wrong end of this battle are the region’s residents. Already survivors of one war, they are watching their territories become increasingly militarized by competing global powers. The Real News was in Georgia earlier this winter to get at the roots of the conflict. Here is Part 3 of our interview with Malkhaz Gulashvili, a newspaper publisher based in Tbilisi who advocates a new path for Georgia, independent from both the US and Russia.
MALKHAZ GULASHVILI, PUBLISHER, THE GEORGIAN TIMES (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I am Georgian, so I do not express the interests of the US or Russia. For me, as a Georgian, it is essential that Georgian interests are protected, meaning that Georgia not be the place where the military and the geopolitical goals of people like Brzezinski or Putin and Medvedev come into contradiction. We already saw in August that Georgia was the venue for US-Russia conflict, and Georgians suffered as a result. We must do everything in our power to ensure that never happens again. I have my own ideas on how to achieve this. We must assert the neutrality of the Caucasus. Such a peace pact must include regional states like Turkey, Russia, and Iran. These countries must be involved to be successful. The EU, the US, and China should also take part. These global actors must guarantee that the Caucasus will be free of military bases, so that neither Russian nor NATO forces are deployed. The conflict zone needs economic projects, not military presence. Economic and business activity are needed to get the people of the region into bilateral relations to loosen tensions and solve social and other issues. Once economic recovery is achieved, the region will be free and successful. This will turn geopolitical conflict into peace in the Caucasus.
FREESTON: Gulashvili has been a leading voice in George’s movement to distance itself from both Russia and the United States. He believes that the idea is gaining momentum.
GULASHVILI: I have people who share the idea, not only in Georgia, but also in Azerbaijan and Armenia, and also in Iran, Turkey, and Russia.
FREESTON: In March, Gulashvili attended a conference in Vienna to drum up support amongst the Georgian diaspora for his proposed neutrality pact. While he was in Austria, his 16-year-old son was detained and threatened at gunpoint by Georgian police. Gulashvili, who has received death threats in the past, responded by indefinitely suspending the printing of the Georgia Times, explaining that “In light of this act of violence and psychological pressure, I cannot offer a free and unbiased newspaper to people. Freedom of speech in Georgia is in question.”
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.