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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

External Powers Must Aid Stability in Georgia

The overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze brings a dramatic political career to a sorry end. The former Soviet foreign minister, who played a big role in ending the Cold War, has been ignominiously driven out of office by his own people. Shevardnadze deserves to go, having failed for more than a decade to deal seriously with the violence, corruption and poverty afflicting his country. Georgia is today faced with possible disintegration, with two provinces broken away and a third, Adzharia, threatening to follow suit.

Shevardnadze's successors must move fast to hold their fragile country together. Russia and the United States, the main external powers in the Caucasus, must support them. Georgia matters hugely to both, as a Caspian oil export route and a base for international terrorism.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the main opposition leader, and his colleagues have rightly set an early date for new elections and sought support from Shevardnadze's followers. Georgia needs a democratically elected, broadly based government as soon as possible. Nothing else will have the strength to deal with the rebellious provinces or with the powerful criminal gangs that poison Georgia.

Moscow must resist the temptation to try to increase its considerable influence in Georgia by undermining the U.S.-educated Saakashvili, even if some Kremlin officials see him as a U.S. stooge. Russia has followed a policy of divide and rule for the past decade, encouraging separatist leaders and maintaining troops in Georgia. But the instability has contributed to Georgia-based terrorism, including in the Pankisi Gorge, which, much to Moscow's anger, has served as a refuge for Chechen fighters. President Vladimir Putin must accept that Russia has had no benefit whatsoever from this policy -- and reduce the pressure on Tbilisi. For their part, Shevardnadze's successors should see that softly, softly is a good policy for a small country with a large neighbor, and avoid needlessly antagonizing Moscow.

This applies particularly when the country's biggest economic project is the planned U.S.-backed pipeline linking the Caspian with the Mediterranean. Moscow sees the scheme as a threat to its dominance of Caspian oil export routes and as a carrier for U.S. influence in Russia's backyard. It is both. But if the pipeline helps bring a measure of prosperity and stability to the southern Caucasus, Russia will be among the beneficiaries.

Washington also must tread carefully and avoid fueling Moscow's fears about Saakashvili. The United States and Russia have a common interest in the peace and stability of the Caucasus. They should cooperate -- and avoid any temptation to indulge in another destructive round of Great Power competition in the region.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.