Russian-backed coup attempt, Georgian publicity, or both?

Discussing the still sketchy alleged Russian-backed coup attempt in Georgia, Robert Farley offers three possibilities behind what happened: an operation with active Russian support, without (or with prior) Russian support, or one manufactured by the Georgian government. His conjecture — and it’s hard to know for sure because the details are still rather fuzzy — that the answer lies in “some combination of options 1 and 2.”

This explanation makes sense not only because Robert Farley is a smart guy who knows a lot about the region, but because Russia harbors and well-known animosity toward Georgian President Saakashvili and because, as Farley points out, there are likely plenty of Russian elements in the Georgian security forces. That said, I don’t think the possibility of Saakashvili, shall we say, exaggerating the story, should be cast aside too easily. The press angle, after all, has been about Georgian allegations, not actual Russian support. This seems tailor made to a p.r. move by the Georgian president, especially when considering the heroic role he seems to have assumed in quelling the plot, at least in The New York Times‘ take:

Georgian forces surrounded a tank unit that it accused of being involved in the plot and President Mikheil Saakashvili entered the base to negotiate the unit’s surrender. In a televised address, Mr. Saakashvili said the plot was an attempt by Russia to derail the planned exercises, which he called a “symbolic event.” [emphasis mine]

A little Yeltsin-esque almost (no irony intented), no? And then there’s the fact, already acknowledged, that Saakashvili did seem to, well, exaggerate; the Georgian Interior Ministry line has morphed from alleging an all-out coup attempt to an intended disruption of NATO military excercises scheduled to start up in Georgia.

I don’t have the full evidence, but it seems that, if Russia were upset about the increasingly prominent NATO role afforded to Georgia, and has long been antagonistic toward Saakashvili, choosing a publicized NATO event would not be a particularly wise time to try to bring him down (particularly when they’ve already made their displeasure with NATO felt). On the other hand, with NATO’s eyes on Georgia, the country’s leaders certainly aren’t shying away from playing up the card of Russian aggressiveness.

At least Saakashvili didn’t blame the notorious Irish-Croat-Hungarian assassination alliance that (allegedly) went after Evo Morales.