November 25, 2003

IN GEORGIA, protesters shouted, "Kmara!" at President Eduard A. Shevardnadze. It means "enough," and it's as good a word as any to sum up the public mood that led to what might yet remain a velvet revolution in that onetime Soviet republic. But enough of what?

Georgia is far more complicated, and far more crucial, than the fall from power of any one man, even one whose history-making career took him from regional KGB chief to the pinnacle of enlightened power in the Soviet politburo to the despotic leadership of a darkening mountain nation beset by corruption, nepotism and lawlessness.

Georgia is mostly Christian but part Muslim, home to a Russian army base and American military trainers and - from time to time - Chechen guerrillas; it is torn by secessionist movements and it is desperately poor.

Also, the only way the West can get access to Caspian Sea oil without dealing with the Russians or Iranians is by means of a pipeline running the length of the country.

Mr. Shevardnadze, a reformer of the first order in his Soviet days, was ushered out of office on Sunday by a younger generation of politicians intent on real reform. He had warily tried to pursue good relations with the United States and the European Union; they want to pursue better relations, and institute the sort of democratic society in Georgia that would truly bring the country into the orbit of the West.

And Russia? For a decade, Russia has stirred up trouble in Georgia, much of it directed against Mr. Shevardnadze and his overtures to the West. Russia encouraged two breakaway regions along the northern border, and has been flirting with another - Ajaria - that abuts the Black Sea and Turkey, and that provided Mr. Shevardnadze's party with a large chunk of the suspicious votes it received in the parliamentary election that precipitated the crisis.

Russia's position has been that Georgia is within Russia's sphere of influence; Moscow would like to get that pipeline under its wing, as well. But it seems to have been caught unawares by the political movement that ousted the old regime. The reformers are less conciliatory to Russia; they are more intent on re-establishing centralized control of the country. Much of the political training they received came from foundations supported by the financier George Soros; they were in close consultations with the leaders of the popular uprising that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia.

The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, personally brokered the deal that led to Mr. Shevardnadze's resignation. That's a more sophisticated attempt at establishing Moscow's influence than saber-rattling would have been; nonetheless, Mr. Ivanov's next act was to fly to Ajaria for consultations with its strongman leader. The weeks and months ahead will be a period of extraordinarily delicate and intricate diplomacy on all sides, Washington's included. The Kremlin is unlikely to stand idly by if the new Georgian government gets too cozy with the West. If it does, the new watchword in the region might be khvatit. It's Russian, and it also means "enough."

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