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EAST-WEST-RESEARCH  November 2003

EAST-WEST-RESEARCH November 2003

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Subject:

Georgia's Crossroads

From:

Andrew Jameson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Andrew Jameson <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 20 Nov 2003 16:48:19 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (63 lines)

Johnson's Russia List
#7429
20 November 2003
[log in to unmask]
A CDI Project
www.cdi.org

#6
Washington Post
November 20, 2003
Editorial
Georgia's Crossroads

A CERTAIN GLOW still surrounds the image of Eduard Shevardnadze: His
courageous diplomacy as the Soviet Union's foreign minister in the late
1980s helped bring the Cold War to a peaceful end. Now, as president of his
native country, the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Mr. Shevardnadze
stands before another momentous decision, one that could determine whether
his reputation as a statesman endures -- and whether his troubled nation
attains a measure of stability. Earlier this month Georgia held
parliamentary elections. Internationally sponsored exit polls and parallel
vote tabulations showed that a pro-Western opposition party came in first.
But the official count has been undermined by massive and blatant fraud,
much of it organized by an authoritarian provincial leader with close ties
to Russia. Mr. Shevardnadze's choice is this: He can ratify the fraud and
retain control over the Parliament in league with the regional boss, or he
can take the West's advice, throw out the fraudulent results and accept the
opposition's victory.

Either course could bring turmoil to Georgia, a small country whose
importance is greatly magnified by its location: It is squeezed between
Russia and Turkey on the shores of the Black Sea and is on a critical
transit route for supplies of oil from the rich new fields around the
Caspian Sea. But the route of fraud is far more dangerous. Russia has never
genuinely accepted Georgia's independence and still maintains several bases
in the country in violation of international treaties. Mr. Shevardnadze has
responded by pursuing alliances in the West. The United States is Georgia's
largest supplier of aid, and U.S. forces have trained Georgian troops. Bush
administration officials pressed the president to hold a clean election and
now warn him that if he accepts the fraud, he can lose his Western
partnerships and Georgia's hopes of one day joining NATO and the European
Union. Opposition leaders, who have been staging large street
demonstrations, are vowing to drive Mr. Shevardnadze from power.

But Mr. Shevardnadze is also under considerable pressure from Aslan
Abashidze, the ruler of the region of Ajara, where one of the Russian
military bases is located. Mr. Abashidze submitted election results that
would have the effect of tripling his party's rightful representation in
Parliament; he claimed to have received tens of thousands more votes than
there are registered voters in his fiefdom. He has threatened to declare
Ajara's independence from Georgia if this fraud is not accepted. Shortly
after the election, Mr. Abashidze flew to neighboring Armenia, where he met
the Russian defense minister. He then traveled to Moscow, where he met with
officials close to President Vladimir Putin. If Mr. Shevardnadze gives in
to this thug, he will have his support to remain in office, but he will
also probably have fewer means to resist Mr. Putin, who is working
assiduously to restore Moscow's imperial influence. There are limits to
what the United States can do to influence the outcome of the crisis. It
can only keep pressing Mr. Shevardnadze to choose democracy and the West --
and stand ready to support him if he does.

********

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