News / Europe

Baker: Shevardnadze Played Vital Role in Ending Cold War

Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze smiles during an interview with Reuters in his residence in Tbilisi, Nov. 24, 2003.
Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze smiles during an interview with Reuters in his residence in Tbilisi, Nov. 24, 2003.

Former U.S. secretary of state James Baker says former Georgian president and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze will be remembered as one of the true architects of a peaceful end to the Cold War.

In an exclusive interview with VOA’s Vivian Chakarian, Baker said the principal legacy of Shevardnadze, who died Monday at the age of 86, is that he, together with then-President Mikhail Gorbachev, refused to use force to keep the Soviet empire together.

Baker said Shevardnadze, a dedicated Communist, realized the Soviet system was not working to the benefit of its people and that fundamental reform was needed. Shevardnadze strongly supported Gorbachev’s “new thinking” — known as glasnost, or openness, perestroika, or restructuring — all in the face of dire warnings from Soviet hardliners.

“And you know, the hardliners in the Soviet Union at that time… were very, very tough on Shevardnadze, very tough on Gorbachev, and they resisted all of that," Baker said. "They both, in my view, showed an extraordinary amount of political courage.”

Shevardnadze is held in low regard in today's Russia because many believe that he, along with Gorbachev, brought about the end of the world’s only other superpower. Baker attributes this to the very difficult transition from an authoritarian government to democracy and free markets.

According to Baker, many people around the world today are much better off because of the non-interventionist policies the two men instituted, which ultimately led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later.

“This permitted millions of people in central and eastern Europe and in former republics of the former Soviet Union to experience freedom and opportunity and democracy and free markets — to varying extents, of course, in each republic — and I think that’s quite a legacy.  And I’m quite confident that history will treat both of them very well,” Baker said.

In view of what has transpired in the last 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, notably the crisis in Ukraine and the rise of authoritarianism, Baker said the United States may have missed an opportunity to help bring Russia into NATO.

“I do believe that there was an opportunity maybe in 1993 or 1994… and I even wrote an op-ed to that effect in The New York Times, in which I said if Russia was to truly embrace democracy and free markets, there ought to be a place for Russia in NATO, because its character at that time was more of a political alliance rather than a security alliance," Baker said. "I regret that was not done, and I think that may be a missed opportunity.” 

While Shevardnadze remained a significant figure in world politics, he was viewed as a divisive leader in his homeland, where his government became dogged by corruption and he was forced to step down as president of Georgia in 2003. Baker said this does not in any way diminish the vital role Shevardnadze played in ending the Cold War.

Baker holds his former Soviet counterpart in high regard.

“Well, we started out as adversaries, and we ended up as friends… by the time we ended that relationship, it had become one of not confrontation but cooperation."

Secretary Baker — who will lead the U.S. delegation attending Shevardnadze's funeral in Tbilisi this Sunday — said the world owes him a debt of gratitude.

You May Like

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mark from: Virginia
July 12, 2014 10:37 PM
With the end of the Soviet Union, so too, should have been the end of NATO. It was largely because of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact that NATO was formed; an alliance of European countries to counter the Soviets in eastern Europe.
A chance was truly missed, and I don't mean not bringing Russia into NATO, but the dissolution of NATO itself, to truly show the Russian people and the Russian government that a bond of trust was there.
As long as NATO exists, Russia will never fully trust the West (and America), because the West (and especially America) is hanging on to a relic of the Cold War, which is NATO, and the Cold War has been over for 25 years.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs