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

    New EU Asylum Rules Could Boost Rightists

    New regulations will seek to correct EU failures in dealing with migrant crisis, most notably inability to get member states to absorb a total of 160,000 refugees

    More Political Turmoil Likely in Iraq as Iran Waits in the Wings

    Analysts warn that Tehran, even though it may not be engineering the Sadrist protests in Baghdad, is seeking to leverage its influence on its neighbor

    Goodbye Ketchup, Hello Sriracha!

    How immigrants are triggering a great transformation in American cuisine

    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.
    Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Rulingi
    X
    May 03, 2016 5:16 PM
    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora