EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE

, who narrowly escaped assassination last month, believes the attempt on his life is a result of geopolitics. The assassins, he said, were propelled by "forces in Russia" that want to block a Georgian route for the transport of oil from the Caspian Sea to a planned pipeline across Turkey to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

Russia wants the bulk of Caspian Sea oil to move through the Russian oil port of Novorossiisk on the Black Sea. The pipeline built for this trade passes through the republic of Chechnya, which is still part of the Russian Federation. The pipeline was severely damaged in Russia’s two-year war to suppress the Chechen rebellion, a war that ended in an uneasy truce with no clear political settlement. Restoring the pipeline to prominence in the trade in the future is essential to economic recovery in Chechnya.

Last Monday in Istanbul, the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Turkey endorsed the Georgian pipeline as the main route for Caspian oil. They endorsed as well a proposed pipeline across the Caspian seabed to bring oil from fields in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to Baku in Azerbaijan and thence to the Georgia-Turkey-Ceyhan line. When Russia asked why it was not invited to the meeting, the Georgian foreign minister, no doubt enjoying his feigned obtuseness, replied that the projects approved did not pass through Russian territory.

Geography and economics clearly favor the Georgian route, but the decision in Istanbul also reflects a conviction that Georgia has the stability to develop and secure the pipeline over the long term. That conviction is a remarkable testimony to the courage and perseverance of President Shevardnadze, and a devastating blow to his would-be assassins.

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