TBILISI (Reuters)–Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on Monday a plot exposed over the weekend was probably aimed at overthrowing his country’s entire leadership–and that the ringleaders were located in Russia.
Government officials said on Sunday a group of "highly dangerous criminals," were detained for plotting to kill Shevardnadze.
"I suppose the intentions this time were more insidious. To remove not only one–but the others. There is this impression: the intention was to take out all who could have prevented their plans," Shevardnadze told a news conference.
The government officials said those under suspicion included a high-ranking army officer. A security ministry source said nine people were being held.
Shevardnadze has survived two assassination attempts–a powerful nail-filled bomb blast in 1995 and a grenade and gun attack on his motorcade in 1998.
As with the earlier attempts on his life–Shevardnadze linked the newest plot to Russia and conservative forces opposed to Georgia’s pro-Western policies–which now include a drive to one day join NATO.
"As concerns the participants in this group–which prepared an especially dangerous state crime and had a whole arsenal of weapons–their allies and bosses–they are in another country–of course were are talking basically about Russia," he said in his weekly radio address–aired just before the news conference.
As in the past–Shevardnadze stopped short of saying he suspected any link with the Russian government or leadership. He said developing cooperation between Georgian and Russian special services may have even helped to expose the alleged plot.
He said the plot was "directed against the democratic development of Georgia–against its integration with Europe and the world."
State television has been showing pictures of automatic rifles–grenade launchers–mines and explosives which it says were confiscated by security forces.
Police said they were ordered to step up patrols in the capital and travelers arriving from the west of the country reported that security forces had set up road blocks and were searching cars.
Georgia–beset by ethnic and civil conflicts as well as economic collapse–has struggled to get on its feet since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Its ties with Moscow have often been frosty–complicated by Russian military support for Abkhaz separatists in the northwest of the country and allegations that it illegally spirited billions dollars worth of military hardware out of Georgia after the Soviet collapse.
Lately Georgia–which still has four Russian military bases on its soil–has abandoned a policy of avoiding irritating Moscow and has fully embraced eventual membership in NATO.
Shevardnadze–71–has been one of the most enthusiastic supporters of NATO’s bombing campaign in Yugoslavia–perhaps not least because he hopes to win more Western help for solving his own separatist problems.
Once Georgia’s Soviet-era Communist boss–he has of late become unequivocal in his pro-Western stance. On Monday he called the United States "the greatest democrat in the world."