UK & World News

  • 7 July 2014, 10:55

Ex-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze Dies

The former president of Georgia Eduard Shevardnadze has died at the age of 86, a spokeswoman has revealed.

The groundbreaking politician is lauded for helping to end the Cold War in his capacity as the Soviet Union's last foreign minister to president Mikhail Gorbachev.

Following the break up of the Soviet Union, he went on to head up the country of his birth, which emerged as an independent state.

Mikhail Gorbachev issued a tribute, saying: "He was an extraordinary, talented man. He was able to quickly build a rapport with different people - with young people and the older generation. He was a bright character, with a Georgian temperament.

"Shevardnadze was a substantial politician. He made a major contribution to the foreign policy of perestroika, and was a sincere supporter of the new thinking in world affairs."

The Kremlim said Vladimir Putin "expressed his deepest condolences to the family, as well as the Georgian people in connection with the death of Eduard Shevardnadze".

Mr Shevardnadze was regarded as a hero in the West for helping to end the Cold War as he fought for reform in the crumbling communist Soviet state.

But he suffered a dramatic fall from grace when he was forced to resign as president of Georgia in the face of mass protests in 2003.

In the 1980s, however, he won plaudits from senior US and European politicians for negotiating arms-reduction treaties with the United States that helping remove the fear of looming nuclear apocalypse that had gripped the West until that point. 

He also helped push through the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 and then brokered the deal that brought down the Berlin Wall.

He then helped usher in German unification, something that had been widely feared in the Soviet Union before that point.

Former US Secretary of State James Baker, who spent long hours at the negotiating table with Shevardnadze, said in 2000: "I am not sure that the Cold War could have ended peacefully without him. He changed all our lives.... The man's a hero."

After resigning as Soviet foreign minister in 1990, he returned to Georgia in the wake of an attempted coup against his former boss that led to the break up of the USSR.

Georgia's first president was himself ousted in a coup and Shevardnadze was first elected speaker and then became defacto leader before being officially made president after the country brought in a new constitution in 1995.

There were two assassination attempts on his life during his ten years in power, which initially saw him adopt pro-Western policies that later became stunted by allegations of corruption.

In 2003, growing discontent led to mass protests that later became known as the Rose Revolution.

Three weeks after the protests started, led by later President Mikhail Saakashvili, a group broke into parliament and drove Mr Shevardnadze from the building.

Although Georgia's leadership has changed, the country has steadfastly refused to return to Russia's sphere of influence and the pro-Western direction he established has lived on in discussions about the Caucasian state eventually developing closer ties to the European Union.