JONATHAN MILLER: For Georgia's five million people, it's the dawn of a new era. Their 39-year-old interim president, Nino Burdzhanadze presiding over a meeting of security and intelligence chiefs. Georgia's new leaders are keen to appear businesslike and to let the world know that everything is under control.
IRAKLI MENAGARISHVILI, Georgian Foreign Minister (translated): Urgent issues for stabilizing the situation within the country and our relationship with foreign countries were discussed.
JONATHAN MILLER: Expectations of change here are high, but if Georgians, half of whom live in poverty, want tomorrow today, the economic situation so dire, unemployment so high, and corruption so entrenched, that nothing is going to change overnight.
ALLISON EKBERG, Editor, the Messenger: There's a lot of complex issues in Georgia that even Shevardnadze was unable to really lay to rest. And right now especially there are a lot of people who supported Shevardnadze who are still here. And that is going to be the challenge for this next government.
JONATHAN MILLER: In the postmortem of Georgia's bloodless revolution, the crux came yesterday when 200 national guardsmen switched sides. Shevardnadze was unable to execute his threatened state of emergency. As all this was going on, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was busy mediating, but according to a senior western diplomat in Tbilisi, Ivanov had already spoken to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and agreed to a joint strategy.
Ivanov told Shevardnadze the game was up. As the momentum of people power surged on the streets and they threatened to storm his residence, he decided to do the patriotic thing and avert bloodshed. Word spread that he had finally gone and three opposition leaders went to see Shevardnadze at his home. This man headed state television until five days ago, when he resigned after a clash with the president. He knew the inside story of what had happened at the meeting.
ZAZA SHENGELIA, Former Executive, Georgian State TV: All of them, they were crying and this was also a very emotional side of all the things which happened yesterday. It was so dramatic, it was so beautiful, it was so emotional, that I cannot explain.
JONATHAN MILLER: The opposition leader turned revolutionary hero told me there would be no retribution.
MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI, Opposition Party Leader: We really wanted to avoid bloodshed and civil conflict. That's why we believed that we should have given the guarantees of security to the president. After all, so those days have been so extremely inadequate to the situation, after so many years of very bad policy still, I mean, he found some courage in him to take some good steps in the end. And I really appreciate that.
MARGARET WARNER: The German government offered Shevardnadze asylum, but he declined today, saying he loved his country too much to leave. In the meantime, interim President Nino Burdzhanadze pledged new elections within 45 days. For more on all this, and what lies ahead for Georgia, we turn to Zeyno Baran, director of the International Security and Energy Programs at the Nixon Center. And Charles William Maynes, president of the Eurasia Foundation; he was recently in Georgia. Welcome to you both.
Bill Maynes, there are plenty of countries around the world that some could happen and would not attract this notice in the west leading the New York Times and the Washington Post, discussed on our program. The fact is from the time he took over in Georgia, Georgia has been of major interest to the U.S. government. Why? What are the U.S. interests there?
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Well, first of all, they had a world class leader. I mean Shevardnadze is, you know, strides the world stage, and suddenly he goes back to his homeland, which is in trouble, which is disintegrating, and he basically brings order. Now he paid a high price for that, but he brought order and so was, in a sense, a national hero. He had very close relations with leaders in the United States. And in addition...
MARGARET WARNER: From his days helping...
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Helping to end the Cold War. And he is given a lot of credit for that. And then Georgia lies geographically on the path of this very important pipeline which the United States and other western countries want to build between Baku and Ceyhan in Turkey. There is no other way to go unless you take it through Armenia and because of relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, that is not an option. So Georgia is critical.
And then of all the western states...I mean of all the new republics in the former Soviet Union, I would say that Georgia had the most vibrant civil society. It had the poorest economic record. It has that paradox. But a lot of people were quite enthusiastic about Georgia because of the openness that had developed and it was under Shevardnadze.
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that in terms of the deep U.S. interest in Georgia for the last dozen years?
ZEYNO BARAN: Well, of course Georgia's geographic position was key. In addition to being the key country for the pipeline, it's also of course neighboring NATO country Russia and to the North, sorry, NATO country Turkey and to the North, Russia. And the Russian-Georgian relations have been fairly tense. And in fact, it was really only through the U.S. strong support that Georgia was able to resist some of the Russian pressure.
And another thing is in addition to these shared interests there were also shared values. And I think we saw that what happened over the last couple of days. It was a very responsible opposition as well as Shevardnadze really behaved like a true statesman in the end. He did not resort to violence, which was a big concern, and he realized it was time for him to leave and he left peacefully. And so I think a lot of the U.S. investment so far has paid off.
MARGARET WARNER: So why, Bill Maynes, was he, you might say, a failure, in so many respects of being a leader in Georgia? In other words, why did the poverty continue to be so great? This was a republic that did have at least a strong agricultural base, did it not?
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: It was quite a prosperous republic in Soviet times. I visited it at that time. I think there are several reasons.
First, Georgia lost its market. Like many states of the former Soviet Union, they had a very prosperous export market. They were the fruit and wine center of 250 million people. Suddenly all their borders are closed, in effect, to the North, and to the South, it's very difficult, given their geographic position, the European Union won't take their agricultural goods. So they're kind of trapped there.
Then they had civil war or certainly secessionist movements all along their border. That took a lot of energy and was disruptive. So I think those are two basic reasons for the difficulty they've had. And then you might argue that they had bad policies.
One thing I think we should point out is all the people who are taking over power now are Shevardnadze's proteges. You have to remember that.
MARGARET WARNER: I want to get to them. But first just one more word about Shevardnadze briefly. Was he responsible for the corruption? Did he know about it, was he part of it -- did he just not have control of it?
ZEYNO BARAN: I think he lost control of it. I don't think he was personally involved. But he had family members and some of the alliances he has made to bring stability to the country did not allow him to continue with the reforms. That was the price that he paid. The alliances that he has cut actually handicapped him in the end.
MARGARET WARNER: Alright, now pick up on the point Bill Maynes made about the new leaders. Start with the woman who is the interim president.
ZEYNO BARAN: She has enormous respect in the country. She was twice elected speaker of the parliament, a very strong personality and I think in Georgia, the only political leader that is respected by both Moscow and Washington. And Georgia had a very good experience with the leader before -- Queen Tamar and she was so good that they called her King Tamar. And she will be definitely the right person to prepare the country for two democratically free elections.
If I can also talk about the leader of the opposition that we have seen so far, Mikhail Saakashvili, he was, for a long time, one of the strongest supporters of President Shevardnadze. He was justice minister and in the early or mid-'90s, he has done enormous reforms in the country. And he actually resigned in 2001 saying that he still has enormous affection and respect for President Shevardnadze for the foreign policy direction that the president has taken Georgia, but disagreed significantly on the internal reform issues. And again it basically meant some of the corrupt power ministries really not allowing Shevardnadze to do the right thing anymore.
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that with these two new leaders?
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Well, I think you should know that the interim president's father funded Shevardnadze's last election. So there are very close ties here. I agree with most of what has just been said. I guess I would just add one thing to exculpate, if you will, the Georgians for their corruption a little bit, which is that what you've seen in Georgia is what happens in any country after wartime. A collapse, you know... if a country's system collapses and people are suddenly given no outlet, you find black marketeering. You find all kinds of things taking place that don't take place in a normal society. Georgia has suffered enormously because of the economic changes that have taken place.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think, for example, Saakashvili, who some suggest might run for president, might be elected president, do you think they're up to the task of these humongous problems that Georgia has?
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Well, they've got all the right attitudes; whether they're able to do this, only time will tell. This is going to be a real test of leadership. They do have the right attitudes I think, but whether they have the leadership to pull the country together, to deal with these very difficult issues, Saakashvili has stated publicly he will drive the Russians out of the three bases that they have.
MARGARET WARNER: But the economic problems. What about the economic problems?
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: The economic problems are daunting. They're daunting. The Georgians are asking for, as I understand it, $5 million just to run their next election, which shows the straights that they are in. They are not overnight going to develop import and export markets and they probably have overestimated the amount of money that the pipeline is going to bring. They can't live off that alone. So they are going to have to adopt policies that are not only sensibly inside the country, but develop better relations with their neighbors.
MARGARET WARNER: Talk about Russia's role here, because clearly the foreign minister of Russia had a big hand in mediating this, probably in consultation with Colin Powell. But Russia's played, as you said a sometimes not very positive role vis-a-vis Georgia.
ZEYNO BARAN: I think Minister Ivanov, when he went to Georgia, I doubt that he had decided that he was going to take the path that he has taken. But once he saw probably that neither the police nor the museum was going to back Shevardnadze, I think Russia did not want to be on the losing side. And in fact, yes....
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that Russia has designs on Georgia in some way and if so how?
ZEYNO BARAN: This is one of the biggest questions. And in fact the way the constructive role Russia played over the last couple days was a very good turning point, possibly in Russian-Georgian relations. But there are also some in Russia that do not want to see an independent and strong Georgia. In fact, they have been very resentful that this small country in their backyard actually wanted to join NATO and wants to join EU. And so there's a lot of tension. And the way Russia has so far wanted to see stability in Georgia was more of coming under Russian control as opposed to letting them handle their own affairs. So I think the tension is going to continue.
MARGARET WARNER: And very brief final comment, Georgia has also been accused of harboring terrorists.
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Well, I think it's clear that whether they intended to or not, they were. They had terrorists in that Pankisi Gorge.
MARGARET WARNER: Chechen terrorists.
CHARLES WILLIAM MAYNES: Chechen terrorists. After 9/11 this issue moved to the front and it was acknowledged there were problems there and that's why allegedly the U.S. troops are now there. We have a contingent of troops there training the Georgians to try to deal with this problem.
MARGARET WARNER: Bill Maynes, Zeyno Baran, thank you both.