Accessibility links

Former Georgian President, Soviet FM Shevardnadze Dies at 86

  • VOA News

Former Georgian President and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who helped end the Cold War as the Soviet Union's last foreign minister, has died at the age of 86.

A spokeswoman said he died Monday after a long illness.

Russian leaders swiftly praised Shevardnadze as an outstanding statesman.

President Vladimir Putin expressed "deep condolences to [Shevardnadze's] relatives and loved ones as well as to the entire Georgian people," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

Eduard Shevardnadze

  • Born in 1928 in the Guria region
  • Joined the Communist Party in 1948
  • Became head of Communist Party in Georgia in 1972
  • Foreign Minister of Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985
  • Led Georgia after its first post-Soviet presidency collapsed
  • Resigned during Georgia's 2003 Rose Revolution

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev added "He was a very capable, talented man, very much predisposed to working with people, with all strata of society."

Speaking on popular radio Echo of Moscow, Gorbachev added that Shevardnadze was "Georgia's ideal representative."

"You could speak to him directly, it was good working with him."

Glasnost, perestroika

As Soviet foreign minister, the white-haired man with a gravelly voice was the diplomatic face of Gorbachev's liberalizing policies of glasnost and perestroika.

Following the wooden Andrei Gromyko, Shevardnadze impressed Western leaders with his charisma, his quick wit and his commitment to Gorbachev's reform course.

Shevardnadze helped push through the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, signed landmark arms control agreements, and helped negotiate German reunification in 1990 - a development that Soviet leaders had long feared and staunchly opposed.

Western leaders, especially Germans, would remain grateful for Shevardnadze's work as foreign minister. But in the former Soviet Union, those nostalgic for a return to superpower status lumped Shevardnadze with Gorbachev in the ranks of the unpardonable.

Shevardnadze, who was appointed Soviet foreign minister in 1985, resigned in December 1990, warning that reform was collapsing and dictatorship was imminent. A year later, the Soviet Union collapsed in the wake of an attempted hard-line coup against Gorbachev.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he returned to Georgia and helped stabilize the country in its early days. He was elected president in 1995 and survived two assassination attempts while in office.

Georgian politics

His government became dogged by corruption and allegations of vote fraud in a 2003 parliamentary election, and he suffered a dramatic fall from grace when his overthrow in the 2003 Rose Revolution saw thousands dancing and singing in the streets of the capital Tbilisi.

Shevardnadze was born on Jan. 25, 1928, in the village of Mamati near Georgia's Black Sea coast, the fifth and final child in a rural family that hoped he would become a doctor.

Instead, he launched a political career at age 20 by joining the Communist Party, and received a university degree only 31 years later from a teachers' institute.

His wife, Nanuli, died in 2004, and Shevardnadze spent his final years in seclusion in his private residence outside Tbilisi, writing memoirs of the time when he helped shape the fate of Europe.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters, AFP and AP.

Show comments