TBILISI, Georgia – Eduard Shevardnadze was a key figure in revolutions abroad and the victim of one at home. As the Soviet Union’s foreign minister, he helped topple the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War, but as the leader of post-Soviet Georgia, his career in the public eye ended in humiliation when he was chased out of his parliament and forced into retirement.
Shevardnadze died Monday at 86, a decade after he left office. His spokeswoman said he died after a long illness.
The white-haired man with a gravelly voice was the diplomatic face of Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalizing policies of glasnost and perestroika. Following the wooden Andrei Gromyko, Shevardnadze impressed Western leaders with his charisma, quick wit and commitment to Gorbachev’s reform course.
He was a main advocate of the policy of allowing the Warsaw Pact countries to seek their own political courses. It was a major break with the old Brezhnev Doctrine of keeping the satellite states on a tight leash.
“He made a large contribution to the foreign affairs policy of perestroika, and he was a true supporter of new thinking in global affairs,” Gorbachev told Interfax on Monday.
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.
Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said: “Eduard Shevardnadze will have an honored place in history because he and Mikhail Gorbachev refused to support the use of force to keep the Soviet empire together. Many millions of people in Central and Eastern Europe and around the world owe their freedom to them.”
Shevardnadze resigned in December 1990, warning that reform was collapsing and dictatorship was imminent. A year later, the Soviet Union collapsed.
He returned to Georgia after its first elected president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, was ousted in a coup in 1992 and was elected speaker of parliament. He was elected president in 1995 after the country adopted a new constitution.
In November 2003, massive demonstrations known as the Rose Revolution erupted after allegations of widespread fraud in a parliamentary election. After three weeks, protesters led by future President Mikhail Saakashvili broke into a parliament session where Shevardnadze was speaking and drove him out of the building.
He kept a low profile in retirement, although he did take public stances.