Just as a silverback is chased out from his leadership position by aggressive younger males, Eduard Shevardnadze, nicknamed in his country “Silver Fox” — Tetri Melia in Georgian — resigned his presidency on November 23, 2003. His last political gesture was a great boon to his nation: Shevardnadze refused to order his troops to shoot the opposition. Mindful of what the history books will say about him, the man who led Georgia, on and off, for 31 years decided to bow out gracefully. A wise man, he was not ready for the role of a Slobodan Milosevic or a Nicolae Ceausescu.
Shevardnadze’s resignation brings the amazing yin and yang of his life and times closer to an end. In 1992, supported by Russia, he was hailed by his people as the savior of Georgia and was later bolstered by the United States. By November 2003, he was reviled by his countrymen and hung out to dry by his allies in Moscow and in Washington. After Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, Boris Yeltsin of Russia, and Heydar Aliyev of Azerbaijan, he is the fourth transitional post-Soviet leader to make way for a younger ruler.
Eduard shevardnadze was born on January 25, 1928, in the village of Mamati in the western part of Georgia known as Guria. He was lucky to escape the draft: Youths born in 1927 and drafted into the Red Army were killed in droves in the last days of World War ii. A bright young man with an impeccable proletarian pedigree, he was noticed by the Komsomol (the communist youth league) and launched his career in 1946 — the beginning of high Stalinism, a stark period in Soviet history. This was the time when Joseph Stalin, the Georgian-born communist dictator, set out to prove to the peoples of the Soviet Union that after the war his rule, empowered by victory against Hitler, would be as unassailable and intimidating as it was during the bloody purges of the late 1930s.
Stalin and his henchman Lavrenti Beria, another Georgian and the Politburo overseer of the ussr’s omnipotent secret police (the nkvd), did not trust their fellow Georgians. Tens of thousands were murdered in the nkvd/mvd/mgb prison cells, while others were sent to its frozen detention camps, the gulag. Young Shevardnadze got his political education while Stalin was trashing the hopes of the society for a relaxation of the Soviet nomenklatura’s political controls. Stalin’s “cult of personality” was ubiquitous and numbing. Repression was on the rise, with the secret police relentlessly cooking new “conspiracies” in which Georgia featured prominently. These included the Doctors’ Plot — an allegation that a group of mostly Jewish doctors poisoned Ideology Secretary A.A. Zhdanov and planned to poison Stalin himself. Some prominent communist leaders, such as Nikolai Voznesensky, chairman of the State Planning Commission (Gosplan), were executed as part of an escalating power struggle to succeed Stalin. Stalin also ordered an investigation into a massive alleged conspiracy in Georgia — the so-called Mingrelian affair, which was supposed to bring down Beria and possibly Vyacheslav Molotov and other senior Soviet Communist Party leaders.
The Orwellian atmosphere of suspicion, terror, betrayal, and ubiquitous secret informants influenced Shevardnadze, despite his later rejection of Stalinism and communism. He learned to utter the required words and worship gods in which he did not believe. In this toxic environment he first became a Komsomol functionary and later a county (rayon) Communist Party first secretary — a typical career path for a Soviet politician.
During the relatively liberal era under Nikita Khrushchev, millions of gulag prisoners returned home, telling the truth about genocidal man-made hunger and the ethnic cleansing of entire nations, including the neighboring Chechens, Ingush, Mingrelian Turks, Black Sea Greeks, and others who were loaded in cargo trains and shipped to Siberia and the frozen steppes of Kazakhstan.
Regardless of what he truly thought, Shevardnadze had to publicly and enthusiastically support the Soviet party line: bread rationing; invasion and repression of the anti-communist revolution in Hungary, where thousands were shot; executions for “economic crimes”; wastefully expensive support of Third World dictators from Fidel Castro to Gamal Abdel Nasser; and massive aid to North Vietnam. In 1959, he became a member of the Georgian Supreme Soviet.
His reputation for toughness preceded him: His career took off after Khrushchev had been overthrown by his Politburo cronies and a neo-Stalinist, Leonid Brezhnev, seized power. He must have been regarded as a promising young fighter against graft. Georgia and neighboring Azerbaijan were considered two of the most corrupt Soviet republics, and under Brezhnev, Shevardnadze became minister of public order (1965) at the age of 37 and then minister of the interior (1968) with the rank of police general. An apocryphal story about Shevardnadze’s first day in office as minister of police reveals his reputation as a crime fighter. After asking senior officials for a show of hands on some point, he then ordered everyone wearing an expensive black-market watch to take it off and turn it in.
He made use of the repressive apparatus in his rise to the top. When a corruption scandal erupted in 1972 (apparently with Shevardnadze’s “help”), the Kremlin took note, replacing the republic’s compromised leader, Vasily Mzhavanadze, with the 44-year-old law-and-order man. This was a typical case of a Soviet anti-corruption campaign used to seize power. Ten years later, as Leonid Brezhnev expired, the wily kgb chief Yuri Andropov would use corruption allegations to sweep away the Brezhnev family and the pro-Brezhnev faction in order to clear his road to power. However, corruption in Georgia is endemic. In 1980, Shevardnadze was still thundering against “negative phenomena, such as money grubbing, bribe taking, . . . private property tendencies, theft and other deviations from the norms of communist morality.”
As Andropov spearheaded a union-wide campaign against dissidents, Shevardnadze went along. A number of intellectuals were thrown in jail in 1977, including Merab Kostava and the erratic writer Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who went on to become the first popularly elected president of Georgia. However, Georgia did gain a reputation as a safe haven for its 2,000-year-old Jewish community, with almost no anti-Semitism and relatively unencumbered religious practices. Georgia was also an easy place from which to leave for Israel. The majority of Georgian Jews emigrated to Israel in the second half of the twentieth century.
Perestroika’s foreign minister
In the cozy life of the top Soviet leadership, conducted behind high fences on exclusive state-owned resorts, Georgia and the Black Sea coast played a special role. From May to October, Soviet leaders and their families trolled over to the nation’s playground, to its beaches and mountains, for rest, recreation, and plotting. As foreign vacations, so popular with the Russians today, were off limits, even for Politburo members, fresh air and plentiful Georgian cuisine, wine, and citrus were particularly stimulating for the sun-starved denizens of Moscow.
Mikhail Gorbachev, party boss of the neighboring Stavropol region, wined and dined Moscow leaders in the mineral water spas of Kislovodsk and Piatigorsk while Shevardnadze played host to Brezhnev and his cronies at Stalin’s favorite hangout in the Pitsunda coastal resort, in the Caucasus mountains hunting lodges, at the Ritza Lake in Abkhazia, and at the Borjomi spas.
The two rose to power simultaneously: The “young” Gorbachev became Politburo secretary for agriculture, while Shevardnadze was co-opted to Soviet Central Committee membership in 1976, becoming a nonvoting Politburo member in 1978. Both, but especially Gorbachev, were Andropov’s protégés.
During these years, Shevardnadze cultivated his anti-corruption image, lived modestly, and sometimes even took public transportation to work while preserving his friendship with his neighbor Gorbachev and the big Moscow bosses — the Politburo vacationers. Shevardnadze, as many in Georgia, was a convivial, well-mannered, and elegant man comfortable starring as a flowery toastmaster in the long and liquid dinners so popular in Georgia, performances many Russians enjoy as much as the delectable cuisine served at such events.
During their vacations together, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze took long walks on the beach, confessing secretly to each other that the system was bankrupt, that it was no longer possible to continue “business as usual,” and that massive reforms were necessary. Another key member of the Gorbachev “gang” was Alexander N. Yakovlev, a communist ideology apparatchik exiled as Soviet ambassador to Canada for his relatively liberal stand against Russian chauvinism and its proponent-in-chief, Ideology Secretary Mikhail Suslov.
When the Kremlin gerontocracy finally died out around 1984, Gorbachev, the former agriculture supremo, became Communist Party general secretary. With his enthronement — proposed by Andrei Gromyko, the Stalinoid foreign minister who by 1985 had served six general secretaries since 1939 — far-reaching personnel changes were launched. When Gromyko was pensioned off, Shevardnadze received the fateful phone call from the Kremlin calling him to serve as foreign minister.
Upon his return from Canada, Yakovlev provided most of the brainpower for Gorbachev’s liberalization, known as perestroika (restructuring). Yakovlev received the important ideology portfolio, which he masterfully turned into a fulcrum for the dismantling of communism and the Soviet Empire.
The process was painful and, at times, bloody. Soviet police and troops fired at or severely beat up civilian protesters in Alma Ata, Tbilisi, Vilnius, and Baku. Armenians and Azerbaijanis were at each other’s throats since 1988 over Nagorno-Karabakh. Pregnant women’s bellies were cut open and children thrown out of windows. When an empire crumbles, things get very ugly.
In the meantime, for the West, the Soviet Union smelled like a rose. The end of the Cold War was imminent. Gorbachev, Shevardnadze, and Yakovlev revolutionized Soviet foreign policy. They didn’t do it out of the goodness of their hearts, but because the Soviet economic system was bankrupted by the arms race imposed by the Reagan administration. The cover-up of Lenin’s and Stalin’s genocidal tactics and the Kremlin’s propaganda had by then been disavowed by the majority of the Soviet population, including the Politburo members themselves. The great communist experiment was on its last legs.
To gain a strategic reprieve — what was known in the Soviet parlance as “the Peace of Brest-Litovsk,” after a peace treaty with the Kaiser’s Germany that Lenin signed in 1918 to win time and to save his regime — the Soviet Union, from then on, was supposed to change its international behavior. It would give up the “class struggle” and violence in general as tools of foreign and domestic policy, normalize relations with its subjects in Eastern Europe, give up its overseas empire, which spread from Vietnam to Angola to Nicaragua, and befriend the West. The only issue not on the agenda at the time was the dismantling of the Soviet Union itself. The Moscow elite was wildly enthusiastic about this U-turn, hoping to pocket state property and get rid of its ideological straitjacket. But, whereas “the Peace of Brest-Litovsk” was a temporary measure, Gorbachev’s rapprochement with the West looked increasingly permanent and irreversible, a prospect which the hard-liners in the Central Committee, the kgb, and the Soviet military rejected.
Support of Third World Soviet satellites, which engendered plenty of resentment back in the metropolis, was drawn down. Most important, according to Horst Teltschik, then foreign affairs advisor to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Gorbachev, speaking at a Central Committee plenum in 1988, stated that the ussr would never again interfere in the internal affairs of its Eastern European allies. The Soviets, for the first time, recognized the right of nations to self-determination. This was formalized in a German-Russian declaration of June 14, 1989. The operational value of such a declaration was that Gorbachev and Shevardnadze had effectively informed the Brezhnevite Soviet clones in Eastern Europe that Moscow would no longer consider sending its troops to prop up the Ceausescus and the Honeckers. The result was as radical as it was rapid. Eastern European regimes fell like dominoes. Empires take centuries to build and a few short years to disintegrate.
The East Germans left in droves via Hungary in the summer of 1989. The Czechs overthrew the hated regime during their velvet revolution in the fall. The Romanian Draculas — Nicolae Ceausescu and wife/co-ruler Elena — were executed by a firing squad in December. The world had transformed, and Shevardnadze was among the key engineers of that sea change.
With the U.S. against Saddam — and Primakov
The extent to which Shevardnadze was committed to building a new U.S.-Soviet partnership was demonstrated in an episode that occurred in the run-up to the first Gulf War in summer 1990. Gorbachev vacillated as to whether to support the U.S. against Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait or to take a neutral stand. On August 3, 1990, Shevardnadze chaired a Foreign Ministry Collegium, at which it was decided to issue a joint Soviet-American declaration denouncing Saddam. This was the first time the U.S. and the ussr promised joint steps in the Persian Gulf.
However, under pressure from the pro-Arab and anti-American lobbies in the Soviet intelligence community, the military-industrial complex, and the Ministry of Defense, Moscow distanced itself from Washington and tried to save the remnants of Soviet prestige in Iraq and the radical parts of the Arab world. There were hopes for fat arms contracts, a portion of the profits from which could now be deposited directly into Swiss bank accounts since the strict controls of the Stalin-Brezhnev era had collapsed.
The former chairman of the upper chamber of the ussr Supreme Soviet, future kgb and foreign intelligence (svr) chief and Russian premier, Yevgeny Primakov, was a vociferous critic of Shevardnadze and the pro-American line. Primakov himself was the top Soviet Middle East expert. He had played mentor and financier to both Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat. In October 1990, Primakov talked Gorbachev into appointing him special presidential envoy to Iraq and visited Washington to convince President George H.W. Bush not to launch the war against Saddam. According to Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi M. Kornienko, Shevardnadze used a back channel to Secretary of State James A. Baker iii to denounce and undermine Primakov’s mission. The relationship with Baker was so strong that the Texan once sang “Georgia on My Mind” to his friend “Shevy” in one of their less formal meetings at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
On November 29, 1990, the ussr joined the U.S. in supporting U.N. Security Council Resolution 678, giving the green light to eject Iraq from Kuwait using “all means necessary” after January 15, 1991. The Soviet Union, in the meantime, was entering its death throes, which led to a military and hard-liner communist coup in August 1991.
Shevardnadze foresaw what was coming. On December 20, 1990, undermined by Gorbachev, who was increasingly coming under the sway of the hard-liners, he dramatically resigned as foreign minister. “Boys in colonels’ epaulettes are pushing the country to dictatorship,” he thundered in a nationally televised speech from the floor of the ussr Supreme Soviet, referring to deputies from the hard-line Soyuz group, such as Victor Alksnis, nicknamed “the Black Colonel.” A life-long communist and Politburo member, Shevardnadze also resigned from the Communist Party.
His prophecy came true: On August 19, 1991, the putsch, which proved to be the last gasp of the communist dictatorship, took place. The plotters included, possibly with Gorbachev’s acquiescence, his own vice president, the defense minister, the interior minister, the chairman of the kgb, and many other top Soviet leaders. However, Boris Yeltsin and the leadership of the Russian Federation, supported by hundreds of thousands of democratically minded Muscovites and Russians all over the country, defeated the putschists. Their failure brought Shevardnadze, a Yeltsin supporter, back as Soviet foreign minister, albeit only for a short time. After referendums were held in many Soviet republics in favor of independence, Boris Yeltsin and his colleagues from Ukraine and Belarus decided to liberate themselves from the strictures of the empire. On Christmas Day 1991, Gorbachev, publicly humiliated by Yeltsin, resigned. The Soviet Union was no more.
Shevardnadze spent less than a month in peace. In January 1992, Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia — the ex-dissident imprisoned by Shevardnadze in the 1970s — was overthrown amid violence and chaos. Shevardnadze was reluctant to return to his homeland, knowing the extent of the challenge. According to one insider account, he was forced by the Kremlin to leave “to install order” in Georgia.
When he arrived, there was practically no electricity or heat. Serious food shortages were widespread. Criminal militias were roaming the streets of Tbilisi, shooting people randomly. Abkhazia, populated by 90,000 indigenous (and nominally Muslim) Abkhaz and over 300,000 Georgians, was in outright revolt, as was South Ossetia. Independence-minded Chechens were supporting the Abkhaz, hoping for a Muslim revolt in the North Caucasus and Chechen access to the Black Sea. Gamsakhurdia made a mess of independence and was overthrown by the Mkhedrioni militia led by Tengiz Kitovani and his own prime minister Tengiz Sigua. He fled to neighboring Chechnya but continued meddling in Georgian politics. Shevardnadze was welcomed home as a hero. Elected chairman of the State Council of Georgia in March 1992, he managed in a short period of time to bring back a semblance of public order.
Restoring territorial integrity, on the other hand, was not so easy. Russia supported Abkhaz separatism to gain the beautiful beaches and the dachas of Abkhazia. The Abkhaz, linguistically and ethnically different from Georgians, were outnumbered by Georgians in their own homeland 4-1 and had been simmering on and off for two centuries, especially since 1925, when Moscow granted Abkhazia autonomous republic status inside the Russian Federation, only to be transferred by Stalin to Georgian jurisdiction. Russian support of the Abkhaz was undermining Shevardnadze and Georgia’s sovereignty. After pouring poorly trained and commanded militias into the rebel territory in 1991 and the equally ineffective Georgian National Guard in 1992, a combination of Russian mercenaries, Chechen volunteers, Cossacks, and the Abkhaz finally defeated the Georgian forces in September 1993 and took the capital, Sukhumi.
Under fire, Shevardnadze behaved like a hero. He refused to evacuate until all the wounded and most of the troops departed Sukhumi. But due to lack of military experience, poor command-and-control, disastrous logistics and inadequate war materiel, Georgia lost this jewel of the Black Sea. The Russians still have troops stationed in Abkhazia as de jure peacekeepers and de facto supporters of the Sukhumi separatists. The U.N. Mission in Georgia (unomig), established in 1993 and expanded in 1994, has been engaged in a decade-plus-long, futile search for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The Abkhaz have ethnically cleansed their land of Georgians, creating a huge refugee problem. Over 300,000 in a country of about 5.5 million have been forced out. Russia also has supported South Ossetian separatists and Aslan Abashidze, the authoritarian and unruly chieftain of Adjara, a Georgian coastal province wedged between Georgia and Turkey. Moscow believes that keeping ethnic conflicts frozen or simmering enhances its divide-and-rule strategy.
In September 1993, Gamsakhurdia used Shevardnadze’s defeat in Abkhazia to stage a comeback. He led his Mingrelian (Western Georgian) followers against the demoralized Georgian army. The Abkhaz joined his offensive. After taking several towns in western Georgia, Gamsakhurdia posed a threat to Tbilisi. Shevardnadze appealed to the Kremlin. In mid-October, the Russian military assistance, including a few tanks with crews, produced a reversal of fortunes. Gamsakhurdia was defeated at his Mingrelian home base. Never a stable person, and his cause lost, Gamsakhurdia apparently either committed suicide or was assassinated on New Year’s Day 1994.
In 1993, Shevardnadze launched the Citizens’ Union of Georgia, a political party which spun off such leaders as the current President Mikhail Saakashvili and State Minister (Prime Minister) Zurab Zhvaniya, who overthrew him last November.
As the Chechen war raged since the fall of 1994, Georgia was caught between the rock of Russia and the hard place of the Chechens, some of whom have lived in Georgia, especially near the Pankissi Gorge, since the nineteenth century. They provided safe haven to their ethnic brethren fighting the Russians. Moscow reacted angrily: Between 1999 and 2003, Shevardnadze had to call the Russian White House several times to stave off the threat of military action. By 1999, his foreign affairs aide told this author, Yeltsin was so ill that he could not even conduct a rational conversation on the phone, so Shevardnadze chose to deal with Marshal Igor Sergeev, the defense minister. With some pressure from Washington, Russian military measures were called off.
Shevardnadze was also under a personal threat. Former Soviet kgb officer Igor Giorgadze, his own former security chief, apparently was involved in and is wanted for an assassination attempt carried out against Shevardnadze in 1995. Now in Moscow, Giorgadze is accused of conducting a psychological warfare campaign against Georgia in the Russian media. Russia has denied requests from Georgia and Interpol to extradite Giorgadze, says Georgian Ambassador to Washington Levan Mikeladze. In February 1998, a deadly assassination attempt against the Georgian president took place. Attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades against his armored Mercedes 600. Two bodyguards were killed, but Shevardnadze walked away lightly wounded. For his part, then-Russian Foreign Minister Primakov, Shevardnadze’s nemesis, joked about the attack. While visiting Kosovo, he tried to demonstrate that a Russian grenade launcher could pierce an armored Mercedes. Later, this was explained as Primakov’s “promotion of Russian weapons.”
On the domestic front, things looked up for a short while. The Georgian economy grew in the mid-1990s from the low baseline of post-Cold War gdp per capita of under $500 a year at a high rate. However, corruption, a lack of energy resources, a massive refugee problem, and the Abkhaz blockade of a railroad needed to move Georgian agricultural produce to Russia stalled further economic development. Hundreds of thousands of able-bodied Georgians left the country for greener pastures. The tourists, so numerous in the Soviet era, were gone — either too impoverished to afford travel or preferring foreign shores. Industry, including a helicopter plant and the massive smokestack factories of Rustavi and Kutaisi, based on local mineral wealth, ground to a halt. Adjara and Abkhazia got by on cross-border smuggling, just like some of the other godforsaken little coastal or mountainous countries which have lost even the pretense of the rule of law. Georgia, once one of the most prosperous republics of the Soviet Union, turned into an economic basket case.
Attempts by the young reformers, brought into positions of power by Shevardnadze, to clean house and modernize were undermined by Shevardnadze’s corrupt cronies from the old nomenklatura, while the Boss himself, just like Yeltsin, played one faction against the other and allowed his family members and friends to enrich themselves unduly.
Yet there was hope. In 1994-1995, Shevardnadze and the then-president of Azerbaijan, the late Heydar Aliyev, began promoting the notion of an East-West transportation and energy corridor, a new Silk Road connecting Asia with Europe, which the U.S. and the European Union supported. The Europeans even came up with a name, Transportation Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia (traseca), to describe the concept. As the first stage, the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline was built, bringing 120,000 to 150,000 barrels a day of Azerbaijani oil to the world market. However, while such a corridor — including the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan main export pipeline to the Mediterranean, due to open in 2005 at a cost of $3 billion — is vital to future exports of Caspian oil, it will create relatively few jobs and relatively little transit-tariff revenue for Georgia.
Attempts to reform the judiciary and prosecutor general’s office failed. The post-Soviet economic decline was the main reason Shevardnadze eventually lost popular support and power. Even winning the Enron Prize for Distinguished Public Service on April 22, 1999 (Lenin’s birthday), bestowed on him by his old friend James Baker, did not improve the miasma of mismanagement and ennui in Georgia.
In April 2000, Shevardnadze won the presidential elections amidst allegations by Western and Georgian observers, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, of widespread irregularities and fraud. Even close allies have said that this was no longer the Silver Fox they knew. Age and health had taken their toll. The economy continued to deteriorate while Russia repeatedly threatened an invasion, allegedly in pursuit of Chechen militants. Georgia’s economic performance remained anemic, with gdp growth around 2 percent per year from 1997 to 2002, official unemployment over 17 percent, and underemployment even higher. Georgia’s stagnation became a cause of its national insecurity.
The united states grew increasingly frustrated with Shevardnadze presiding over a deteriorating Georgia. Sources in Tbilisi claim that when Baker visited on July 4-5, 2003, he warned the Georgian leader in no uncertain terms that tampering with the coming parliamentary elections was something the Bush administration would not tolerate. Apparently, Shevardnadze did not listen.
The election-rigging was the last straw. The opposition, led by Saakashvili, Zurab Zhvania, and parliamentary leader Nino Burjanadze, first demanded that the Central Election Commission announce the results. When the commission balked, the opposition declared that it had won and staged massive demonstrations. Shevardnadze threatened to use force and called for his supporters to surround the presidential offices in Tbilisi, but very few volunteered. The Milosevic scenario — using flawed elections as a fulcrum to overthrow an unpopular president, which the opposition apparently studied in Belgrade under the tutelage of ngos funded by George Soros — worked.
While Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who himself has Georgian roots, mediated between Shevardnadze and his foes, Russia was cautious about the new actors, whom many in Moscow view as pro-American. At the same time, Moscow discouraged Shevardnadze from using force — a step the Georgians would never have forgiven the Russians for taking.
On November 20, the Georgian Central Electoral Commission finally announced that the elections were won by the pro-Shevardnadze party “For New Georgia” with 21.34 percent of the vote. The opposition took umbrage and stormed the parliament, though no one was killed. Shevardnadze’s political allies abandoned ship one by one. The old and tired man left for his state residence in Krtsanisi and announced his resignation. While Germany declared that it would be willing to provide him with a new home, for now the Silver Fox remains in Tbilisi and President Mikhail Saakashvili has announced that he would grant him a pardon even if convicted.
In the January 4, 2004 elections, Shevardnadze announced that he voted for his old protégé, Saakashvili, but added that he was too young and inexperienced to rule. The mentor now offered himself as an advisor to the pupil, who had hit the big time.
Eduard Shevardnadze, 76, is starting his new, fifth, life. He has been a young communist apparatchik, a Soviet party boss, a foreign minister of perestroika, and president of independent Georgia. He is now a retired president, a senior statesman, and a global celebrity. He played a key role in managing the demise of the Soviet Union and bringing about the end of the Cold War. For that, we should be eternally grateful. He had a tough piece of turf to manage, and he tried his best. It was just not good enough. The Caucasus is indeed one of the toughest neighborhoods in the world, second maybe to the Middle East. The geopolitics of Georgia will be hard to navigate for years to come — but they won’t have Shevardnadze to kick around.