Tuesday, Nov 25, 2003
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By Vladimir Radyuhin
Saying that Mr. Shevardnadze was not a dictator, Mr. Putin said: "Therefore, we feel legitimate concern that the change of power in Georgia has taken place against the background of strong pressure of the use of force. Those who organise and encourage such actions will bear responsibility before the people of Georgia."
Russian politicians and analysts accused the U.S. of masterminding the ouster of the Georgian President. "America has reared and pestered the Opposition leaders," the head of the State Duma foreign relations committee, Dmitry Rogozin, told Russian television.
Analysts point out that the U.S. backed the Opposition's claim that the Nov. 2 Parliamentary poll in Georgia was rigged and was the first to recognise the interim leader, Nino Burdzhanadze, and offer economic aid.
Ms. Burdzhanadze, Speaker of the outgoing Parliament, on Sunday took over as Acting President after Mr. Shevardnadze stepped down in the face of massive protests against the officially declared victory of a pro-government party in the vote. Under the Constitution, Presidential elections must be held within 45 days. The Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, left Georgia today after failing to mediate a compromise settlement of the crisis that would allow Mr. Shevardnadze to stay until the Presidential and new Parliamentary elections. Mr. Ivanov was, however, praised by all sides for facilitating a peaceful transfer of power in Georgia.
In her first official statement as Acting President, Ms. Burdzhanadze said Georgia would "continue its course of early integration into European and Atlantic structures," while at the same time trying to maintain "good relations" with Russia.
Commenting on the ouster of Mr. Shevardnadze, the Russian President said it had not come to him as a surprise. "The change of power in Georgia is a logical result of a series of grave mistakes in domestic, foreign and economic policy of the former leadership," Mr. Putin told a Cabinet meeting on Monday. He issued a veiled warning to Georgia's new leadership not to repeat Mr. Shevardnadze's mistakes in taking his country towards the West and away from Russia.
"Georgia's foreign policy had been conducted without due regard for the deep cultural and historic roots of the Georgian people and without reference to geopolitical realities," Mr. Putin said.
Noting that relations between Russia and Georgia have been `difficult' recently, he called on Georgia's new leaders to "do everything possible to restore the tradition of friendship between our countries".
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