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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Georgia Has Critical Role In Caucasus

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's narrow escape from an assassination attempt Monday night is a frightening warning of the fragility of peace in the Caucasus.

It would have been a terrible shame if terrorists had murdered Shevardnadze, who won deserved renown for the role he played in ending the Cold War.

Shevardnadze's death would also have plunged into chaos a long-suffering Caucasus nation that will play a crucial role in bringing peace to the region.

Most unsettling are Shevardnadze's dark hints that foreign forces, perhaps Russian, were involved in the attempt on his life.

At this stage, his theory is only speculation. After all, Shevardnadze has plenty of domestic enemies in Georgia.

Since taking control of the country, he has fought a battle against organized crime gangs such as the once all-powerful Mkhedrioni and against separatist forces in the breakaway region of Abkhazia.

But Shevardnadze would not make accusations against Russia lightly, and his words do raise some worrying questions about Moscow's role in the region.

In the six years he has led Georgia, Shevardnadze has made significant progress turning it into a real country.

His grounds for maneuver have been limited by the presence of Russian bases on Georgian soil. Shevardnadze is also prevented from moving too fast by the memory of Russia's involvement in a series of wars that destabilized Georgia in 1991 to 1994. The existence of the rebel Abkhaz republic owes much to Russia's continuing patronage.

But Shevardnadze has enlisted Western help in strengthening Georgia's still embryonic statehood. He has recently also become a vocal critic of the Commonwealth of Independent states, the loose association of 12 former Soviet republics that Russia uses to project its diplomacy across the region.

Most annoying for Russian business interests, Shevardnadze has convinced Western oil companies to use Georgia as an alternative to Russia for pipeline routes for the export of billions of dollars of Caspian Sea oil.

It seems incredible that the Russian leadership could become involved in a harebrained scheme to kill Shevardnadze. But the wars in Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia and Chechnya showed that Russian policy in the Caucasus is often made not in the Kremlin, but by rogue generals, security agents and mafia structures on the ground who see commercial or political gain in an unstable and tractable Caucasus.

If these rogue forces are still active, they must be stopped. The whole region and the West stand to gain by the emergence of a unified and prosperous Georgia.