Russian Daily Examines Georgian Leader’s “Peace Offensive” Against A

Russian Daily Examines Georgian Leader’s “Peace Offensive” Against Abashidze

Kommersant, Moscow
7 May 04

>From the very start of the clash between Georgian President Mikheil
Saakashvili and the now ex-Ajarian leader Aslan Abashidze few people
doubted that ultimately victory would rest with the leader of the “Rose
Revolution”. A scion of the old Soviet elite and a proponent of the old
mentality, Aslan Abashidze was in every respect a man of the past, and
a politician of that kind even at the level of an autonomous republic,
not to mention state level, has no historical future. However, the
Abashidze ruling clan seemed to be a nut that could not be cracked
straightaway or a rhizome that would be extremely hard to uproot.
Many people, including the writer of this article, thought just a few
days ago that a protracted standoff that could develop into bloodshed
might be a quite realistic scenario for Ajaria. Because people like
Aslan Abashidze do not go voluntarily.

But a miracle has all but happened. The fact that the denouement came
quickly and, importantly, painlessly came as a complete surprise. When
Eduard Shevardnadze was swept away in the same manner in November
last year, it was not so surprising. By then it was clear that Mr
Shevardnadze held little control within the Georgian state and he
only had to be given a slight nudge for his regime to collapse. But
“strong Abashidze”, who has maintained a grip on his state within a
state for so many years, seemed in some respects the exact opposite
of the “weak Shevardnadze”. Yet now he has suffered the same end. Why?

“Abashidze’s strength” proved toothless in the face of the peace
offensive from Mikheil Saakashvili, who refused to use force. And
was reluctant to have a punch-up, relying on his loyal personnel and
his best devoted soldiers. Abashidze probably also had troops of
that kind, and plenty of them. But the whole trick is that they were
not allowed to show their worth. There was no military offensive,
which would have allowed Aslan Abashidze to don a flak jacket,
come out onto the square, and say for all to hear “Ajaria is in
danger!” rallying a people’s militia around him. The Ajarian leader
concluded simply that “Tbilisi had scheduled a meeting” for him and,
thus, made a fatal error.

Why did a seemingly experienced politician allow himself to be outdone
by a novice? Possibly because for the past decade rebellious regions
have been dealt with in this way, by force, not only in Georgia but
also in other republics of the former USSR. Let us recall Abkhazia,
South Ossetia, Nagornyy Karabakh, and the Dniester region. Lastly, let
us recall Chechnya. The “Ajarian lion” decided that his republic had
the same fate in store. He blew up the bridges and prepared for all-out
defence. However, all these actions turned against him. He lost
the battle for the Ajarian people. As a result we have witnessed
the first experience in the post-Soviet area of a peaceful solution
to the problem of separatism. The Ajarian “sovereignty bandwagon”
has turned out to be not a military parade but a peaceful May Day
demonstration, whose participants were marching not with submachine
guns but with balloons.