Eduard Amvrosiyevich Shevardnadze

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Eduard Amvrosevich Shevardnadze

Eduard Amvrosevich Shevardnadze (born 1928) rose to prominence as the foreign minister of the U.S.S.R. under Mikhail Gorbachev. After the breakup of the Soviet Union he was elected President of his native Georgia.

At the end of the September 1990 mini-summit conference in Helsinki, while Presidents Bush and Gorbachev were giving their television press conference, the cameras also focused on the front row of VIPs—Barbara Bush, Raisa Gorbachev, James Baker (the American secretary of state), and Eduard Shevardnadze (the Soviet foreign minister). As with each of the annual summits between the United States and the Soviet Union after 1985, somewhere in every picture, standing near Gorbachev, was Eduard Shevardnadze. Thus, it was a shock not only to the Soviet president but throughout the U.S.S.R. and abroad when Shevardnadze suddenly resigned December 20, 1990. He left with an ambiguous warning of an impending dictatorship.

In his post of foreign minister, Shevardnadze had become one of the most easily recognized Soviet leaders abroad. While Gorbachev was the chief architect of the Soviet foreign policy called novoe myshlenie (new thinking), his chief disciple was Shevardnadze. He was always present at international gatherings, having prepared the way, yet appropriately retreating to the background and surrendering center stage to Mikhail Gorbachev when high-level meetings actually took place.

There could hardly be a greater difference in style between the smiling, urbane Shevardnadze and his more somber predecessor, Andrei Gromyko. Self-assured and charming, Shevardnadze was a sunny contrast to the gloomy Gromyko, who was identified with the Soviet "nyet" in the United Nations. Shevardnadze displayed an ease in dealing with Western and Third World diplomats that won him respect and admiration. Gromyko was respected, even feared, but rarely admired. When Gorbachev came to power, Gromyko was among the first of the "old guard" to be shifted to another position and given an honorary title. Shevardnadze, at first glance, was an unlikely candidate for minister of foreign affairs. Most of his career prior to 1985 had been dedicated to the Komsomol (Communist Youth League), and police work. He was a "law and order" man from the unruly Republic of Georgia.

A Georgian by nationality, he was born in a small town, Mamati, near the Black Sea on January 25, 1928. At 18 he was a Komsomol instructor and at 20 joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). His formal education included the Higher Party School of the Communist Party of Georgia, from which he graduated in 1951, and a teaching degree, by correspondence, from the Kutaisi State Pedagogical Institute (1960). He married a journalist and was believed to have children.

In the 1950s he principally worked for the Komsomol, rising to the position of first secretary of the Komsomol of Georgia (1957-1961). He was also a member of the Central Committee of the All-Union (national) Komsomol. From 1958 to 1964 Shevardnadze was a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Georgia. In the 1960s he worked within the Communist Party of Georgia for several years at the raikom (district) level and then for the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the civilian police, where he served for seven years as minister of internal affairs (1965-1972). In 1972 Shevardnadze was appointed first secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia. In this position he built up a reputation as the man who cleaned up, at least temporarily, corruption in the Georgian Republic. It is believed that his life was threatened on several occasions because of his efforts to eliminate corruption.

His work as first secretary of the Communist Party of the Georgian Republic for 13 years attracted the attention of the national party. In 1976 he was elected to the Central Committee of the CPSU and in 1978 was made a candidate member of the Politburo. This was the same year that Gorbachev was brought to Moscow to serve as Central Committee secretary for agriculture, and one can assume that their close association began at least by 1978.

In 1985 Gorbachev appointed Shevardnadze to be his foreign minister, replacing the long-term (28 years) foreign minister, Gromyko. Shevardnadze also became a full member of the Politburo, the first Georgian since Stalin to serve on the highest organ of the party. In the next five years Shevardnadze made his mark in foreign policy, and virtually everyone forgot that he had little prior experience in external affairs. He soon gained respect and admiration for his keen intelligence and ability to deal rationally with international problems. Shevardnadze was constantly on the road after his appointment, visiting the United States numerous times, Great Britain, China, France, Japan, Germany, and many other countries. In superpower politics, foreign minister was probably the most exhausting position apart from the presidency. Shevardnadze built up a good rapport with his American counterparts, Secretaries of State George Shultz (1985-1988) and James Baker (1989-1990).

At the 28th Congress of the Communist Party in July 1990, Shevardnadze, a party member since he was 20 years old, stated his intention not to run again for the Politburo. He expressed the view, as did other officials, that it was appropriate for government ministers to separate themselves from serving on the Politburo. Several other Politburo members did not stand for reelection or were retired while the first secretaries of the republic were admitted. Hence, the turnover in the composition of the Politburo was substantial after the 28th congress. No longer serving on the Politburo were the members of Gorbachev's Presidential Council—Nikolai Ryzhkov, Alexander Primakov, Vladimir Kryuchkov, Alexander Yakovlev, Vadim Medvedev, and Shevardnadze. (Kryuchkov, the chief of the dreaded secret police, the KGB, was later arrested as one of the Gang of Eight in the failed coup of 1991.)

Shevardnadze had spoken out strongly at the 28th party congress against the conservative criticism of Gorbachev's administration, which was led by Yegor Ligachev. Unlike some occasions when he did little but report on foreign policy, Shevardnadze actively responded to the charges against new thinking and Soviet foreign policy. But he was a troubled man. Six months later he suddenly resigned as foreign secretary, December 20. A little more than six months after that he quit the Communist Party. Meanwhile he became head of the new Movement for Democratic Reform, built around such liberals as former Presidential Council member Alexander Yakovlev, sometimes called the father of perestroika; industrial specialist Arkady Volsky; legislator Ivan Laptyev; mayor of Moscow Gavril Popov; and St. Petersburg (Leningrad) mayor Anatoli Sobchak.

To replace Shevardnadze, Gorbachev appointed career diplomats Alexander Bessmertmykh and then Boris Pankin. Gorbachev wanted to bolster his flagging prestige and persuaded Shevardnadze to return to his old foreign ministry post on November 19, 1991. However, the breakup of the Soviet Union the next month brought an end to the Cold War. The U.S. recognized the independence of Georgia on December 25, 1991 and provided aid for food, fuel and medicine. The popularly elected Georgia president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was overthrown by opponents of his increasingly dictatorial regime and replaced with a military council. In March 1992 Shevardnadze returned to Georgia to head a four-person State Council, which replaced the military council.

On October 11, 1992 voters elected a new parliament, with Shevardnadze as chairman. By September 14, 1993 the political and economic situation in Georgia had so deteriorated that Shevardnadze resigned to protest the parliament's blocking of his ministerial appointees. At the request of the parliament, he returned to office two days later. Turmoil and conflict continued in Georgia with minorities and separatists fighting for control of power and resources. Shevardnadze continued to guide the country, challenging Western nations "to rise above national interests and establish a post-Cold War order." During a visit to the U.S. in 1994, President Bill Clinton described Shevardnadze as "a statesman whose vision and diplomacy have played an immeasurably important role in bringing a peaceful end to the Cold War." In 1995 Shevardnadze survived an assassination attempt and the same year was elected Georgia President in a popular election. He continued to guide the Georgia state through the uncertainty of the post-Cold War period.

Further Reading

The best source of information on Shevardnadze is his political memoir, The Future Belongs to Freedom (1991). There has been relatively little written about Shevardnadze. Some sources which shed insight on his career and role in the Gorbachev administration since 1985 include Donald R. Kelley's Soviet Politics from Brezhnev to Gorbachev;and Baruch A. Hazan's From Brezhnev to Gorbachev: Infighting in the Kremlin. Several works chronicle his service as foreign minister, including Richard Staar's USSR Foreign Policies after Detente; and Raymond F. Smith's Negotiating with the Soviets. For a general overview of the evolution of Soviet foreign policy, Nogee and Donaldson's Soviet Foreign Policy Since World War II; and Alvin Z. Rubinstein's Soviet Foreign Policy Since World War II: Imperial and Global are recommended; Misha Glenny, in a personal interview, described him as the "Bear in the Caucasus" (Harper's Magazine, March 1994). Information on Georgia and Shevardnadze can be found in articles and fact sheets published in the US Department of State Dispatch.

views updated


(b. 1928), foreign minister coincident with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Eduard Shevardhadze was minister of internal affairs of the Georgian Republic from 1965 to 1972, first secretary of the republic from 1972 to 1985, foreign minister of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1990 and again in 1991, and president of the Republic of Georgia from 1992 onward.

Until 1985, Eduard Shevardnadze's career had been entirely within the Soviet republic of Georgia. The character traits he brought with him from Georgia would serve him well during his years as foreign minister. He was a man of considerable vision,

with a strong sense of purpose. He was also a superb politicianopportunistic, flexible, pragmatic, and ruthless. He was a natural actor, as every great politician must be, and he was a man of action, a problem-solver impatient with obstacles, and a brutal political infighter. Perhaps most important, he was a Georgian with cosmopolitan leanings, not a Russian who distrusted the West.

Shevardnadze used the available instruments of power to advance his career and further his policy objectives in Georgia at the outset of his career. He repressed dissidents and removed real and potential opponents. An outstanding Soviet apparatchik, he acted the role of sycophant to the leaders of the Soviet Union, extolling the virtues of those in a position to help him. But he brought to the Foreign Ministry in Moscow a commitment to radical change, a willingness to implement reform in an unorthodox manner, and the political skills and strength to accomplish his goals.

When Shevardnadze was appointed foreign minister of the Soviet Union in 1985, it was widely assumed that he would be little more than a mouthpiece for Mikhail Gorbachev, who would conduct his own foreign policy. In turning to a regional party leader with no foreign-policy background, however, Gorbachev was relying on personal instinct and political acumen. As party leader in Georgia during the 1970s and early 1980s, Shevardnadze battled corruption and introduced the most liberal political and economic reforms of any Soviet regional leader. Gorbachev's long association with Shevardnadze was rooted in shared frustration with the inefficiencies and corruption of the communist system, and he believed that his friend had the understanding and political skills necessary to formulate and implement a new foreign policy.

Shevardnadze played a critical role in conceptualizing and implementing the Soviet Union's dramatic about-face during the 1980s. Considered the moral force behind "new political thinking" in the former Soviet Union, Shevardnadze was the point man in the struggle to undermine the forces of inertia at home and to end Moscow's isolation abroad. Two U.S. secretaries of state, George Shultz and James Baker, have credited him with convincing them that Moscow was committed to serious negotiations with the United States. Each became a proponent of reconciliation in administrations that were intensely anti-Soviet; each concluded that the history of Soviet-U.S. relations and the end of the Cold War would have been far different had it not been for Shevardnadze.

Commitment to the nonuse of force became Shevardnadze's most important contribution to the end of communism and the Cold War, permitting the virtually nonviolent demise of the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself. Shevardnadze was more adamant on this issue than was Gorbachev; he opposed the use of force in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1989 and in the Baltics in 1990. Shevardnadze recognized from his Georgian experience that the use of force against non-Russian minorities would be counterproductive, and particularly opposed Gorbachev's reliance on the military. Shevardnadze resigned as foreign minister because of Gorbachev's turn to the political right wing and, during his resignation speech in December 1990, he predicted that the use of force would undermine perestroika. The violence in Lithuania and Latvia three weeks later, condoned by Gorbachev, proved him right.

When Shevardnadze returned to Georgia, he initially ruled by emergency decree, without the legitimacy of law and with the support of corrupt and brutal paramilitary forces. Finally elected Georgia's second president in 1995 (and reelected in 2000), he embarked on another campaign to rid Georgia of corruption, reform the economy, and restore political stability.

In 1992 Shevardnadze returned to an independent Georgia that was far worse off than when he had departed for Moscow nearly seven years earlier. His predecessor, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, an ultra-nationalist who was both inept and corrupt, used his office to restrict civil liberties and to accumulate great personal wealth. Civil strife was destroying the country, and the economy was in ruins. As the head of the state, Shevardnadze was forced to pursue a humiliating course, taking Georgia into the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States in 1993 and requesting a Russian military presence in western Georgia to counter secessionist forces in Abkhazia. Just as he had been accused of favoring Western interests when he was Soviet foreign minister, now he was charged with betraying Georgian interests as chairman of his ancestral homeland.

Shevardnadze survived at least two well-organized assassination attempts in 1995 and 1998 as well as bloody conflicts with ethnic separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian wars in nearby Chechnya led to increased pressure on his government from Moscow and a greater Russian presence along Georgia's borders. Increased Russian involvement in the Caucasus, instability in Central Asia, and weak neighboring governments in Armenia and Azerbaijan added to the pressures on Shevardnadze. Numerous scandals within the Georgian military weakened national security and gave Russian forces greater opportunities to penetrate the Georgian military. Increased U.S. involvement in Central Asia because of the war against terrorism, the Russian interest in the Caucasus because of the war in Chechnya, and the overall political and military weakness of the states of the Caucasus had the potential to contribute to Shevardnadze's vulnerability.

Shevardnadze, who could have retired from public life in 1991 as an honored statesman, engaged in yet another battle, this time to keep his country from self-destruction. The opposition of high-ranking Russian general officers, who blamed Shevardnadze for the demilitarization and breakup of the Soviet Union, were likely to contribute to the discontinuity of his government in Tbilisi. Unlike Gorbachev, who turned to writing books and delivering lectures, Shevardnadze chose a different pathone that nearly cost him his life on more than one occasion. With its breathtakingly beautiful Black Sea coast, mountains, ancient culture, rich agricultural land, and energetic people, Georgia could certainly emerge as a peaceful and prosperous modern state, and Shevardnadze's first priority was to advance the country toward that goal.

See also: georgia and georgians; movement for democratic reforms


Ekedahl, Carolyn McGiffert, and Goodman, Melvin A. (2001). The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze. Washington, DC: Brassey's.

Palazchenko, Pavel. (1997). My Years with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze: The Memoir of a Soviet Interpreter. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press.

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

Shevardnadze, Eduard. (1991). My Choice: In Defense of Democracy and Freedom. Moscow: Novosti.

Melvin Goodman

views updated

Shevardnadze, Eduard Amvrosievich (1928) Georgian statesman, president (1992–2003). A close ally of Mikhail Gorbachev, Shevardnadze was Soviet foreign minister (1985–90). He oversaw the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, and worked on détente with the West. In 1990, warning of impending dictatorship, Shevardnadze resigned and formed the Democratic Reform Movement. As president of Georgia, he sought Russian help to overcome supporters of the deposed leader, Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Shevardnadze survived assassination attempts in 1995 and 1998 but was removed from power in 2003 during protests over vote rigging.

More From