Russian Daily Examines Saakashvili “Peace Offensive” vs 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

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.