Shevardnadze, Eduard

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Eduard Shevardnadze

Born January 25, 1928
Mamati, Georgia, Soviet Union

Soviet foreign minister and
president of Georgia

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E duard Shevardnadze, foreign minister of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1990, helped reform and transform the internal structure and international relations of his country. Led by Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–; see entry), their overall policies were known as glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring).

Shevardnadze encouraged cooperation and compromise with the United States. He and Gorbachev became the much-heralded architects who brought about the end of the Cold War (1945–91). The Cold War was an intense political and economic rivalry from 1945 to 1991 between the United States and the Soviet Union, falling just short of military conflict. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Shevardnadze returned to his native Georgia to head its government.


Eduard Amvros'evich Shevardnadze, the son of a teacher, was born in the village of Mamati in western Georgia. Georgia was then a republic in the Soviet Union. As a youth, he joined the Komsomol, the Communist Youth League, and rose to leadership positions within the organization. He graduated from K'ut'aisi State Pedagogical Institute, where he majored in history.

Shevardnadze joined the Communist Party in 1948 and diligently worked his way through the ranks. Between 1964 and 1968, he served in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) as the minister of public order maintenance. Between 1968 and 1972, he was the minister of foreign affairs for the Georgia republic. During these years, when corruption was rampant in all levels of the Georgia government, Shevardnadze began his campaign of reform. Ultimately, Shevardnadze removed roughly 75 percent of local Georgian leadership. In 1972, Vassily Mzhevandze, Georgian Communist Party chief, was brought down by Shevardnadze, who then replaced him.

Between 1972 and July 1985, Shevardnadze was the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia. Not only was he successful in his fight against corruption, but he also developed Georgia's economy and culture. His work in these areas greatly exceeded the progress made in the Soviet Union as a whole. His accomplishments did not go unnoticed in Moscow.

Foreign minister

Soviet general secretary Leonid Brezhnev (1906–1982; see entry) died in November 1982. Yuri Andropov (1914–1984) replaced Brezhnev as general secretary but died in February 1984. During his short time as the most powerful Soviet, Andropov began to reform government and improve the inefficiency of Soviet industry. In government, his efforts were aimed at the corruption permeating the massive Soviet bureaucracy. In industry, he tried to put more planning and decision making into the hands of local managers. Most importantly, Andropov elevated a younger generation of Communist Party members, including Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, to positions where they could aid his reform efforts.

At Andropov's death, Konstantin Chernenko (1911–1985) took over and allowed the Party's old guard to hang on to power a bit longer. But Chernenko died on March 10, 1985. By 11:00 p.m. that day, the Politburo decided the fifty- four-year-old Gorbachev would be the new leader of the Soviet Union. The next day, Gorbachev called for a reformed Soviet government with more openness (glasnost) and a more democratic approach. He called for restructuring of the Soviet bureaucracy (perestroika) and wanted to stop the nuclear arms race. An overwhelming majority of the Soviet Communist Party gave enthusiastic support to their leader's new thinking. Although Gorbachev expected to breathe new life into the existing Soviet system, he also believed the Soviet Union would remain communist.

Gorbachev appointed Shevardnadze as his foreign minister. A Georgia native, Shevardnadze was the first foreign minister not from Russia itself. Gorbachev and Shevardnadze both supported economic and democratic experiments in the Eastern European countries that had long been under communist control. Gorbachev also brought Boris Yeltsin (1931–; see box) to Moscow as the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Moscow Communist Party. This position was similar to that of a mayor of a large U.S. city. Yeltsin, wide open to reform, set about revitalizing Moscow's government administration. Yeltsin eventually followed Gorbachev as head of Russia.

Gorbachev and Shevardnadze knew defense spending was hurting the Soviet Union's economy. Shevardnadze found that the money needed for the arms race with the United States left many other problems within the Soviet Union unattended. The two leaders intended to replace antagonism toward the United States with cooperation.

Within a week after Shevardnadze became foreign minister, he announced a summit meeting between the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States, set for November 1985 in Geneva. Shevardnadze met with U.S. secretary of state George Shultz (1920–) in September to pave the way for the summit meeting. By the end of the November summit, U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911–; served 1981–89; see entry) and Gorbachev had reached a comfortable rapport. Although no decisions on arms reduction were agreed to, the two leaders agreed talks would continue toward scaling down nuclear weapon arsenals.

After more arms reduction talks between the two leaders at Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 1986, Shevardnadze and

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Shultz continued to meet regularly for talks and to set the agenda for yet another summit meeting. Meanwhile, Gorbachev was withdrawing Soviet forces from a civil war situation in Afghanistan. Shevardnadze strongly supported this action.

Ending the Cold War

In December 1987, the summit meeting in Washington, D.C., led to the signing of the historic Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty. For the first time, the United States and Soviet Union agreed to actually eliminate certain nuclear weapons. At the signing on December 8 in the East Room of the White House, Shevardnadze sat in the front row along with other dignitaries.

When Reagan's vice president, George Bush (1924–; served 1989–93; see entry), was inaugurated as the next U.S. president in January 1989, his administration took a much more cautious approach to the Soviets than had Reagan in his last years in office. New secretary of state James A. Baker (1930–), however, made his first visit to Moscow in May 1989 and quickly developed a respectful and trusting relationship with his Soviet counterpart, Shevardnadze. Baker realized Gorbachev and Shevardnadze clearly needed international support to carry out continued reform in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but it was slow in coming from Washington.

In September, Shevardnadze traveled to Moscow to garner support from Washington for the reforms. He and Gorbachev were under increasing pressure from conservative old-line communists to halt reform. In the United States, Shevardnadze flew with Baker to his ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While there, Shevardnadze discussed the pullback of communist influence and control of Eastern European nations, as well as the difficult ethnic problems arising within the republics of the Soviet Union. The terror campaigns of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1879–1953; see entry) were still remembered in various republics and continued to generate the hatred and mistrust of those in Moscow. Shevardnadze said Gorbachev was struggling with keeping those republics, such as the Baltic states and his own Georgia, within the Soviet Union yet give them some sense of reform and local rule. The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia had been brought into the Soviet Union by force in 1940, under Stalin, and sought freedom.

In Wyoming, Shevardnadze and Baker also discussed arms control. Shevardnadze informed Baker that the Soviet Union would no longer insist on limiting the so-called "Star Wars" program, a plan to devise a shield of satellites armed with laser weapons over the United States for protection against incoming missiles. Shevardnadze also agreed to dismantle the Soviet early warning system at Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. Baker made no similar concessions, which disappointed both Shevardnadze and Gorbachev. Nevertheless, for the first time, Baker knew the Soviets were genuinely attempting reform and urged the still-reluctant President Bush to support Moscow in its undertakings.

By the fall of 1989, Hungary, Poland, and East Germany had abandoned communism without Moscow intervention. In November, the Berlin Wall, symbol of the Cold War, came down. Many people believed this symbolically and fully ended the Cold War. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in June 1990 for his efforts. In spite of Iraqi ties to the Soviet Union, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze fully backed the United States in its intentions to free the Middle Eastern country of Kuwait from the army of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (1937–) in 1990. The Persian Gulf War ensued in 1991, and the United States successfully freed Kuwait.

Despite the easing of international tensions, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were under continued pressure at home. Conservative communist critics and the Soviet military wanted a much stronger old-line communist rule. Critics bitterly opposed the concessions in Eastern Europe and Germany, and Gorbachev's siding with the United States in the Persian Gulf War. In contrast, the various nationalist forces within many areas of the Soviet Union demanded a lessening of communist rule. Demonstrations and bloody confrontations had ensued. By the end of 1990, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were fighting for their political lives.

Gorbachev, while letting Eastern European countries go their own way, always intended to keep the Soviet Union intact and communist. He turned to the conservative faction and vowed to control the nationalistic uprisings. On December 20, Shevardnadze, fearing a return to a hard-line communist dictatorship and the planned use of military force to put down unrest in the Soviet Union, resigned from his foreign minister position.

Conservative Soviet communists attempted a coup in August 1991 against Gorbachev while he and his family vacationed at their villa on the Black Sea. In Moscow, Yeltsin opposed the coup and Shevardnadze immediately supported Yeltsin. Gorbachev was brought back to Moscow, but Yeltsin was now clearly in charge. By the end of August, the Communist Party no longer existed. Shevardnadze would be briefly appointed foreign minister in November 1991, but he served only until the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of December. By December 25, 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceased to exist. The Baltic states and at least eight other republics—Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kirghizia, Moldavia, Tadzhikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan—had declared independence.

Return to Georgia

Unrest continued in Georgia throughout 1991 and a bloody civil war resulted in the ousting of the old regime president Zviad Gamsakhurdia (1939–1994). The office of president was dissolved. Shevardnadze became the chairman of the State Council of Georgia in 1992, heading the now independent republic of Georgia. In a direct referendum, he was elected to the post with approximately 90 percent of the popular vote.

In his personal life, Shevardnadze was christened in the Georgian Orthodox Church and was given his Christian name, George. Previously, all religious activities had been banned in communist regimes. Also in 1992, he founded the Eduard Shevardnadze Foundation for Democracy and Revival. As head of Georgia, Shevardnadze first had to deal with separatists in Abkhazia, located in the northwest portion of the region. After considerable military engagements, Abkhazia declared itself an independent state in November 1994. Shevardnadze enrolled Georgia in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), a group of former Soviet republics, in October 1993.

Amidst political criticism in Georgia, Shevardnadze formed a new political party in November, the Citizens' Union of Georgia. In early 1994, he signed a military cooperation treaty with Russia that allowed Russia to operate three military bases in Georgia. This move also angered his critics. Pushing forward, Shevardnadze proposed the office of president be reinstated in Georgia. The Georgia legislature approved this reinstatement in August 1995. In November elections, Shevardnadze was elected president with over 70 percent of the vote and was subsequently reelected on April 9,2000. He also survived two attempts on his life by reactionary forces, one in August 1995 and the other in February 1998. Shevardnadze continued to focus on developing the economic and political independence of Georgia as well as taking an active role in regional and international activities. He also authored a book of his memoirs, My Choice, that became very popular and was translated into a number of languages.

Mrs. Shevardnadze

Nanuli Shevardnadze, like her husband and also like Gorbachev's wife Raisa, was very active publicly. She was president of the international society Georgian Women For Peace and Life, honorary president of the international society "Fetri Mandili" (White Scarf), and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Mshvidoba Kovelta (Peace to All). The Shevardnadzes have a son and a daughter.

For More Information


Ekedahl, Carolyn M. The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997.

Isaacs, Jeremy, and Taylor Downing. Cold War: An Illustrated History, 1945–1991. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998.

Kaiser, Robert G. Why Gorbachev Happened: Triumphs and Failure. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.

Shevardnadze, Eduard. The Future Belongs to Freedom. New York: Free Press, 1991.

Solovyov, Vladimir, and Elena Klepikova. Yuri Andropov: A Secret Passage into the Kremlin. New York: Macmillan, 1983.

Web Sites

"Eduard Shevardnadze." The Georgia Foundation. (accessed on September 14, 2003).

"President of Georgia: Eduard Shevardnadze." Parliament of Georgia. (accessed on September 14, 2003).

Boris Yeltsin

Boris Yeltsin was born in 1931 in Sverdlovsk, Soviet Union. Possessing the soul of a radical reformer, Yeltsin did not join the Communist Party until he was thirty years old, probably because he was impressed with attempts by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (1894–1971) to repair the crimes of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Yeltsin rose rapidly within the Communist Party structure. From 1976 to 1985, he served in the Presidium, the important policy-making body of the party. He acquired a reputation as bright, open to new ideas, and willing to act on those ideas.

In 1985, the newly appointed leader of the Soviet Union and Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev, brought Yeltsin to Moscow. Within six months, Yeltsin was first secretary of the Moscow Communist Party Central Committee. He brought sweeping reform to the Moscow administration.

Between 1985 and 1990, Gorbachev allowed a new thinking to dominate the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations. By mid-1990, Gorbachev, who never intended for the Communist Party to be brought down, decided he must turn more conservative and go back to hard-line communist rule in order for him to survive politically. Yet in mid-1991, when Gorbachev left Moscow for a holiday, the conservatives who were still disgruntled about Gorbachev's changes attempted a coup to oust Gorbachev completely from rule. Yeltsin stepped in as leader of the reform democratic forces that opposed the conservative communists and brought Gorbachev safely back to Moscow. The coup failed, but it was the radical democratic Yeltsin who took power.

Yeltsin became the first president of the Russian Republic. He moved Russia toward a market-based economy. Despite difficulties with Muslim separatists in the region of Chechnya and two heart attacks, Yeltsin was again elected president in 1996. He underwent quintuple heart bypass surgery performed by famed U.S. heart surgeon Michael DeBakey (1908–) and was able to continue running the Russian government. He remained president until 2000 when Vladimir Putin (1953–), Yeltsin's preferred successor, was elected. Yeltsin authored Against the Grain (1990) and The Struggle for Russia (1994).