The Legacy of Shevardnadze

by

The history of the end of the Cold War has largely ignored former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, one of the major figures in the seminal events that took place between 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall and 1991 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union.  Western writings on the end of the Cold War focus on the endemic weakness of the Soviet Union and the steadfast policies of the United States, but fail to credit Shevardnadze who recognized the need for reform and pursued policies designed to accomplish profound but peaceful change.

From 1985 to 1991 Shevardnadze’s accomplishments on the international stage were equal to those of Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan.  He convinced Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush that the Kremlin would conduct a strategic retreat of its military forces from Central Europe and the Sino-Soviet border, pursue comprehensive disarmament, and resolve outstanding conflicts in the Third World.  He forged close relationships with Secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker, who became proponents of reconciliation in administrations that were intensely anti-Soviet.  In Moscow, the Soviet foreign minister had the toughest assignment of all: persuading Kremlin hard-liners that the moment had come for rapprochement with the United States.

The nonviolent collapse of the Soviet Union occurred because Gorbachev and Shevardnadze were committed to domestic reform, reconciliation with the West, and nonuse of force.  The foreign minister understood better than his president that Moscow’s commitment to Communist ideology had limited its ability to adopt practical, constructive programs.  The first
Soviet official to argue that the clash with capitalism was no longer relevant, Shevardnadze began his campaign to remove ideology as the basis of foreign policy in an extraordinary speech to the Foreign Ministry in 1988 that asserted there was no connection between national security and the class struggle.

In order to pursue their foreign policy goals, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze had to take on entrenched bureaucracies accustomed to pursuing long-established agendas.  Shevardnadze had to persuade, co-opt, and force the Foreign Ministry and the Defense Ministry and the officials who ran them to accept new assumptions and directions.  Within a year, Shevardnadze had turned long-time foreign minister Andrei Gromyko’s moribund foreign ministry into a major player in the foreign policy establishment.  Shevardnadze was also the point man in the effort to weaken the military establishment and to push through radical arms control proposals, implement unilateral force reductions, and accomplish the retreat from the Third World.

In addition to changing Moscow’s national security policies, Shevardnadze was instrumental in changing Moscow’s human rights policies.  He appointed new personnel to pursue serious negotiations with their American counterparts, and personally made sure that humanitarian problems would not block Soviet-American progress.  The issue of Jewish emigration had been a major obstacle to improved relations since the 1970s, but Shevardnadze was instrumental in ending the quota system and increasing the rate of Jewish emigration in the late 1980s.  Fewer than 1,000 Jews left the Soviet Union in 1986; almost 20,000 Jews left the Soviet Union in 1988 and the number of Jewish emigres exceeded 70,000 in 1989.

Unfortunately, Gorbachev tried to con and co-opt too many of his opponents and allowed too many military and national security officials to remain in place.  Many of these officials participated in the failed coup against Gorbachev in the summer of 1991.  It was Shevardnadze who had resigned as foreign minister in 1990 and warned that “A dictatorship is coming!”  These words are particularly haunting today with the authoritarian policies and practices of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Before Shevardnadze joined Gorbachev in Moscow in 1985, he was the communist boss of Georgia, where he managed Georgia’s internal security agencies with cold efficiency.  He was not known as a notable defender of human rights in those days, but he reduced corruption and eased communist controls that were stifling the Georgian economy.  In Tbilisi, Shevardnadze had waged a battle against Georgian nationalists to improve conditions for various minority groups.  Perestroika and glasnost were born out of their profound dissatisfaction with the Soviet condition.

Shevardnadze returned to Georgia after the collapse of the Soviet Union to engage in yet another battle, this time to keep Georgia from self-destruction and to create a viable government.  He survived two bloody conflicts with ethnic separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as two assassination attempts in 1995 and 1998.  The Russian wars in Chechnya led to increased pressures on Shevardnadze’s government, and the corruption and poverty in Georgia blocked his efforts to reform the government in Tbilisi.

With the exception of Mikhail Gorbachev, no other leader of a former Soviet republic can claim the accomplishments that Eduard Shevardnadze registered over the past five decades.  Unlike Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Shevardnadze was willing to call an election in Georgia in order to enhance his credibility and authority.  And unlike Boris Yeltsin, who was unwilling to organize a political party to provide a popular base for his rule, Shevardnadze organized a political party strong enough to win a free and competitive election.  His achievements in Moscow and Tbilisi were monumental.

Melvin A. Goodman (and Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl) are the co-authors of “The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze” (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).  Goodman is also the author of National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers, 2013).

 

 

 

 

 

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”