TBILISI, Georgia — A tank battalion mutinied Tuesday at a Georgian military base near the capital and the base has been sealed off, the defense minister said.
The mutiny followed an announcement by the Interior Ministry that it had uncovered a Russia-supported plot to overthrow the government and had arrested the suspected organizer.
Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili has been the target of more than three weeks of street protests by opposition demonstrators demanding he resign.
The coup plotters, backed by Russian troops, were planning to disrupt NATO military exercises set to begin Wednesday in Georgia, Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said.
Russia’s NATO envoy Dmitri Rogozin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying the allegations were “crazy.”
The tank battalion’s commander, Mamuka Gorgishvili, said his soldiers would take no aggressive actions to interfere in the political situation in the country and would remain in the barracks, the Georgian news agency Kavkaz Press reported.
The Interior Ministry’s Utiashvili said the suspected coup plot was organized by a former special forces commander, Georgy Gvaladze. Gvaladze and an army officer on active duty have been arrested, the spokesman said.
The Interior Ministry has a video of Gvaladze talking to his supporters about the planned coup, the spokesman said. In the video, Gvaladze is shown saying that 5,000 Russian troops will come to support the coup, which was planned for Thursday, Utiashvili said.
Defense Minister David Sikharulidze said he had been blocked from entering the military base in Mukhrovani, about 20 miles Tbilisi, the capital. The base’s tank battalion of about 500 army personnel had announced that they would refuse to follow orders, he said.
Among the mutineers were civilians who had no relation to the battalion, he said.
Opposition leader and former Saakashvili ally Georgy Khaindrava said the reports of the planned coup were made up.
“It’s nothing but a tall tale, and we’ve heard so many of them already,” Khaindrava said. “Saakashvili could not make up anything smarter.”