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

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project 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.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid