Russia Says US Planned Shevardnadze’s Exit Long Ago

MOSCOW (Reuters)–Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on Saturday Moscow believed the United States might have planned for Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze’s ouster weeks before a peaceful revolution toppled him.

Ivanov also harshly criticized US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for saying during a visit to Tbilisi on Friday that Moscow was in breach of its obligation to withdraw forces from Georgia–and suggested Rumsfeld was ignorant of the essence of the deal he was speaking about.

Ivanov–who helped mediate a smooth transfer of power in Georgia last month–told a newspaper he believed visits by US emissaries–Shevardnadze’s friends from when he was Soviet foreign minister–could have prepared the groundwork for the veteran leader’s departure.

US officials have said the visits were part of a plan to ensure free and fair parliamentary elections that it had been working on for several years.

"Now it is becoming clearer that one of these goals was to persuade Shevardnadze to leave his post–"Ivanov told the mass circulation Komsomolskaya Pravda daily."I don’t have any information or documen’s about the aim of these missions.”

"Of course there was preparation–the American ambassador played an active part–as Shevardnadze himself recognizes," Ivanov was quoted as saying.

US–RUSSIA WANT STABILITY

Moscow and Washington both had their own interests in seeking a calm end to mass protests that began after disputed November 2 elections in the strategic ex-Soviet state.

Western powers were concerned that political unrest in Georgia could disrupt the construction of pipelines bringing Caspian oil to the Mediterranean.

Russia was keen to persuade Georgian authorities to stop Chechen rebels from using Pankisi Gorge as a base for attacks on Russian forces in neighboring Chechnya.

US specialists began training Georgian troops last year–partly to help in the US-led war on terror–irritating Moscow as the former colonial power.

Ivanov’s commen’s were the latest in a series of critical remarks by officials of the two countries over each other’s involvement in Georgia.

Earlier this week–Washington gave Moscow a thinly veiled order not to back Georgian regions which have broken away from government control.

Rumsfeld expressed concern on Friday–after meeting the new leaders in Tbilisi–about "Russian intimidation" of countries in the region and said he wanted to stress US support for stability and security in Georgia.

In separate remarks–Ivanov criticized Rumsfeld for suggesting that Moscow was dragging its feet on pulling its troops out of Georgia as required by the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty. Ivanov said Moscow had long brought its military presence in the region in line with the treaty and was negotiating further troop withdrawals with Tbilisi–as agreed in Istanbul in 1999.

"As a professional diplomat I always recommend that people read documen’s–originals–if possible," Ivanov was quoted by Interfax news agency as telling reporters after being asked for comment on Rumsfeld’s remarks.

Shevardnadze stepped down last month after a wave of opposition-led protests against alleged rigging of the November elections ands a decade of corruption and economic mismanagement.

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