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Eduard Shevardnadze, Foreign Minister Under Gorbachev, Dies at 86
Eduard Shevardnadze (seated second from right, next to George Shultz) listens to conversation between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev at Geneva, November 20, 1985. (Source: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)
Washington, DC, July 24, 2014 – Former Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who passed away on July 7, brought a new diplomatic style and candor to bear in changing U.S.-Soviet relations in the late 1980s and ending the Cold War, according to Soviet and U.S. declassified documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).
The posting includes the 1985 Politburo minutes of Shevardnadze’s surprise selection as foreign minister, contrasted with the behind-the-scenes account from senior Central Committee official Anatoly Chernyaev in his diary. The e-book also includes the transcripts of Shevardnadze’s remarkable first conversations with his American counterparts, George Shultz (in the Reagan administration) and James Baker (in the George H.W. Bush administration); other memcons featuring Shevardnadze’s leading role in summit meetings between Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and American presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Shevardnadze’s last conversation with Bush before the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.
President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in the Oval Office, September 23, 1988. (photographer unknown)
Shevardnadze’s rise to leadership of the Foreign Ministry in 1985, only months after Gorbachev became general secretary, was a “bolt from the blue,” in Chernyaev’s words. Shevardnadze’s talks with Shultz brought a whole new tone to U.S.-Soviet discourse, while the Soviet minister’s growing friendship with Baker, including 1989’s fly-fishing outing in Wyoming, led to actual partnership between the former Cold War adversaries by the time of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But the memcons also reflect Shevardnadze’s frustration with American “pauses” and missed opportunities for dramatic arms reductions across the board, and for earlier domestic political transformation in the Soviet Union.
The National Security Archive obtained the Shevardnadze documents through Freedom of Information Act requests to the Reagan and Bush presidential libraries and to the U.S. State Department, and through generous donations from Anatoly Chernyaev. Additional material comes from the files of the Gorbachev Foundation, the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History, and the former Communist Party (SED) archives in Germany.
General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze at a meeting of European leaders, November 21, 1990. (photographer unknown)
Two key aides to Shevardnadze played leading roles in developing the new Soviet foreign policy during the 1980s, and deserve mention for helping scholars afterwards understand the end of the Cold War. Experienced diplomat Sergei Tarasenko had already served in the Soviet embassy in Washington and provided Shevardnadze with expert advice on relations with the U.S., including in most of the U.S.-Soviet meetings transcribed here. Tarasenko also participated in the seminal 1998 Musgrove discussion published in the award-winning book, Masterpieces of History: The Peaceful End of the Cold War in Europe, 1989 (Budapest/New York: Central European University Press, 2010). Teimuraz Stepanov-Mamaladze served as Shevardnadze’s chief of staff, having come with him from Georgia to the Foreign Ministry, and subsequently donated his invaluable diaries and notes of the period to the Hoover Institution Archives at Stanford University.
DOCUMENT 1: Excerpt of Official Minutes of the Politburo CC CPSU Session, June 29, 1985
Source: Russian State Archive of Contemporary History (RGANI), Fond 89. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya.
Perhaps the most audacious personnel change made by Gorbachev came very early, only four months into his leadership, when longtime Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko (known to the Americans as “Mr. Nyet”) retired upwards to the job of chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet — the titular head of state— as part of the deal that earlier had featured Gromyko advocating for Gorbachev’s election as general secretary. Gromyko understood that his successor would be his carefully-groomed deputy, Georgi Kornienko — so there was shock-and-awe throughout the Central Committee and the Foreign Ministry when Gorbachev instead proposed as foreign minister the ambitious first secretary of the Georgian Communist Party, Eduard Shevardnadze. During the Politburo session on June 29, 1985, Gorbachev stepped down from his position as chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, which he held together with his position as general secretary (Leonid Brezhnev had merged the two jobs in 1977). By kicking Gromyko upstairs, Gorbachev opened a key position-Minister of Foreign Affairs — where he wanted to place his close ally, whom he already knew shared his reformist thinking on both international and domestic policy. This official record of the Politburo session shows Gorbachev nominating Shevardnadze, ostensibly after discussing several alternative candidates with Gromyko and jointly coming to the conclusion that Shevardnadze was the best choice. All Politburo members express their full support for Gorbachev’s candidate— testament to the power of the general secretary.
Secretary of State James Baker and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze fly-fishing in Wyoming, September 24, 1989. (photographer unknown)
DOCUMENT 2: Diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, July 1, 1985
Source: Diary of Anatoly S Chernyaev, donated to the National Security Archive.
Translated by Anna Melyakova.
Anatoly Chernyaev, who at the time was first deputy head of the International Department of the Central Committee (CC CPSU), describes in his diary the nominations of Gromyko and Shevardnadze as they were announced at the CC CPSU Plenum. The Plenum had to approve the nominations that the Supreme Soviet would confirm the next day. Shevardnadze’s nomination was like a “bolt from the blue,” Chernyaev writes. The diary relates how Boris Ponomarev, head of the International Department, told Chernyaev what had actually happened at the Politburo, an account that differs substantially from the official minutes (see Document 1). According to Ponomarev, the Shevardnadze nomination was a total surprise to other Politburo members, and Gromyko and Ponomarev tried to protest by suggesting career diplomat Yuli Vorontsov as a candidate, but Gorbachev disregarded their protest completely. Chernyaev concludes that Gorbachev’s nomination of Shevardnadze is “very indicative of the end of Gromyko’s monopoly and the power of the MFA’s staff over foreign policy.”
DOCUMENT 3: Record of Conversation between George Shultz and Eduard Shevardnadze in Helsinki, July 31, 1985
Source: Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of State.
This U.S. State Department memcon records the meeting with the U.S. secretary of state during Shevardnadze’s first foreign trip in office — to Helsinki for a meeting of CSCE foreign ministers on the tenth anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act. In this first meeting with George Shultz, the Soviet foreign minister mainly reads from his notes, giving the American a tour d’horizon of the Soviet positions on arms control. However, his tone is strikingly different from previous meetings when Andrei Gromyko had represented the Soviet side. Even on questions of human rights, Shevardnadze reacts not with “indignation or rage” (as Shultz comments in his memoirs) but asks Shultz jokingly, “When I come to the United States, should I talk about unemployment and blacks?” In the second part of the conversation, where Shultz and Shevardnadze are accompanied only by translators, Shevardnadze urges his counterpart to move fast on arms control, indicating that the Soviets are willing to reassess their positions — “there is no time now to postpone solutions.” He ends the conversation with the statement: “you have experience but we have the truth,” a remark that would win him some positive points from the Politburo.
DOCUMENT 4: Minutes of Politburo discussion of Shultz-Shevardnadze talks in Vienna, November 13, 1986
Source: Archive of the Gorbachev Foundation. Translated by Svetlana Savranskaya.
Shevardnadze was an active participant at the historic summit between Gorbachev and Reagan in Reykjavik in October 1986, where the two leaders almost agreed to abolish nuclear weapons. Just after the summit, the Soviets, trying to build on the momentum of Reykjavik, tried to offer the U.S. side concessions on laboratory testing for the missile defense program so close to Reagan’s heart – a change in position that might have made a difference at Reykjavik. But it was too late. Enmeshed in the growing Iran-contra scandal and under attack from allies like Margaret Thatcher for nuclear heresy, the Reagan administration had already retreated from the Reykjavik positions. Here the Politburo reviews the results of the November Shevardnadze-Shultz talks in Geneva, where Shultz refused even to discuss Shevardnadze’s new proposals concerning what testing would be allowed and not allowed under the ABM treaty. Shultz’s position notwithstanding, Gorbachev emphasizes the need to press the U.S. to move forward on the basis of Reykjavik. He stresses that “we have not yet truly understood what Reykjavik means,” referring to its significance as a new level of disarmament dialogue and reduction of the sense of nuclear threat.
DOCUMENT 5: Record of Shultz-Shevardnadze Conversation in Moscow, April 21, 1988
Source: FOIA request to the Department of State.
This State Department memorandum of conversation records the third set of negotiations between the U.S. secretary of state and the Soviet foreign minister leading up to the 1988 Moscow summit (February in Moscow, March in Washington, now April back in Moscow). Shevardnadze presses for progress on the START treaty aimed at reducing nuclear weapons, but Shultz responds that still-unresolved issues like sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCMs) would not “reach full closure during the next month,” so agreement would be unlikely for the summit. Arguments over these nuclear-armed cruise missiles would hold up START negotiations for years, pushed by the parochial interests of the U.S. Navy rather than a consideration of the national interest, but by 1991 their lack of strategic value would lead to President George H. W. Bush’s unilateral decision to withdraw all tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. ships.
The bulk of the discussion here concerns human rights issues, including an interesting exchange about the Vienna follow-up meeting on the Helsinki Final Act. Shultz raises his “disappointment with the performance of the Soviet delegation” at Vienna, which “was not prepared to go as far in its statements as what the Soviet leadership was saying in Moscow.” Shevardnadze responds, “We have a hard delegation” in Vienna; we tell them one thing, “They do something different.”
DOCUMENT 6: Minutes of the Politburo discussion of Mikhail Gorbachev’s United Nations speech, December 27-28, 1988
Source: RGANI. Published in “Istochnik” 5-6, 1993. Translated by Vladislav Zubok.
The December 27-28 Politburo meeting was the first following Gorbachev’s return from the United States after his historic announcement at the United Nations of massive unilateral Soviet withdrawals of forces from Eastern Europe. Observers in the United States ranging from Sen. Daniel Moynihan to Gen. Andrew Goodpaster hailed the speech as marking the end of the Cold War; but incoming Bush administration “hawks” such as Brent Scowcroft did not agree (as Gorbachev would only find out later, with the 1989 “pause”). Part of the context here in the Politburo for Gorbachev’s lengthy monologues and Shevardnadze’s proposals for a “businesslike” withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe is the growing bewilderment of certain military and KGB leaders who were not fully informed in advance about the scale and tempo of Gorbachev’s announced unilateral arms cuts.
Still, there is no trace of real opposition to the new course. The Soviet party leader has learned a lesson from the military’s lack of a strong reaction to previous discussions of “sufficiency” as a national security strategy, and he is now ramming change down their throats. Ever obedient, Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov states, “everyone reacted with understanding,” even after Shevardnadze’s aggressive attacks against the military for retrograde thinking, for directly contradicting the U.N. speech, and for proposing only “admissible” openness rather than true glasnost. Ironically, however, when Shevardnadze and Ligachev suggest announcing the size of Soviet reductions “publicly,” it is Gorbachev who objects: if the Soviet people and party learn how huge Soviet defense expenditures really are, it will undermine the propaganda effect of his U.N. speech.
DOCUMENT 7: Record of Conversation between Erich Honecker and Eduard Shevardnadze, June 9, 1989
Source: Stiftung Archiv der Parteien und Massenorganisationen der DDR-Bundesarchiv, SED, ZK, JIV2/2A/3225. Translated by Christiaan Hetzner.
This is one of many documents that became available in the Communist party archives of the former East Germany (GDR) after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. Less than a week after Solidarity had swept the Polish elections, to the dismay of the Polish Communists, the hard-line GDR leader Erick Honecker is rapidly becoming a dinosaur on the verge of extinction. At this moment in mid-1989, only Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania surpasses Honecker in his resistance to Gorbachev’s perestroika and the new thinking in Moscow represented in this meeting by Shevardnadze. Honecker has even banned some of the new Soviet publications from distribution in the GDR. The conversation reveals Honecker’s deep ideological concerns, and his understanding of the geostrategic realities in Central Europe. He reminds Shevardnadze that “socialism cannot be lost in Poland” because through Poland run the communications lines between the Soviet Union and the Soviet troops in the GDR facing NATO’s divisions.
This same consideration led Honecker and his predecessor, Walter Ulbricht, to urge Soviet military intervention to suppress previous East European uprisings such as the Prague Spring in 1968 or the strikes in Poland in 1980-1981. But here Honecker is most dismayed by Gorbachev’s upcoming trip to West Germany (FRG), which threatens Honecker’s own political “balancing act,” which in turn depends on poor relations between the Soviets and the West Germans. Shevardnadze has an impossible mission here, to assuage the East German leader’s concerns about all the changes taking place in Poland, Hungary and inside the Soviet Union. Shevardnadze’s opening words — “our friends in the GDR need not worry” — sound more than ironic today. In fact, Shevardnadze does not believe in Honecker’s concept of East German “socialism,” and in only a few months, the Moscow leadership would signal to Honecker’s colleagues it was time for him to go.
DOCUMENT 8: Memorandum of Conversation between George Bush and Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington, September 21, 1989
Source: FOIA request to the George H.W. Bush presidential library.
This meeting in Washington marks the start of Shevardnadze’s trip to the United States that will culminate with his fly-fishing expeditions with James Baker in Wyoming, where the two men established a close personal connection. This was also Shevardnadze’s first meeting with George H.W. Bush as president of the United States. He tells Bush about the progress of domestic perestroika and democratization in the Soviet Union, the work on economic reform, and the new tenor of U.S.-Soviet relations. However, Shevardnadze laments that the desired progress toward a 50% reduction in strategic nuclear weapons is not on the horizon, and he urges his U.S. counterparts to pick up the pace. He also enumerates other Soviet arms control proposals, including banning fissionable materials and eliminating short-range nuclear weapons.
DOCUMENT 9: Memorandum of Conversation between George Bush and Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington, April 6, 1990
Source: FOIA request to the George H.W. Bush presidential library.
Shevardnadze is in Washington for this meeting, working out arrangements for the long-planned summit meeting between Bush and Gorbachev that will take place at the end of May. The Lithuania crisis has created a rift in U.S.-Soviet relations, “lost momentum” in Bush’s phrase, as the independence demands of Lithuanian nationalists build on the long-standing American position of non-recognition of Soviet incorporation of the Baltics, as well as domestic U.S. political pressures from émigré groups. Gorbachev’s own lack of understanding for Baltic nationalism has produced an inconsistent Soviet policy alternating between crackdowns, threats of an embargo, and attempts at dialogue. Shevardnadze tries to explain to the Americans why the Soviets needed “Presidential authority” to deal with the problems between ethnic groups in Lithuania, not to mention Soviet claims to ownership of the factories there. But when Bush says the Soviets have backtracked on arms control agreements (such as how to count air-launched cruise missiles, or ACLMs), Shevardnadze is quick to point out how the Americans have reneged on their on-site inspection pledges.
Perhaps most remarkably, Shevardnadze describes the Soviet argument for a nuclear test ban as based on domestic political pressures from mass demonstrations (such as in Kazakhstan against the Semipalatinsk test range). The Soviet foreign minister also makes a plea for partnership in international financial institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, saying the Soviets are “not looking for your help.” This would change within a year. On the American side, the conversation reveals a clear expression of Bush’s vision when he reports he is often asked, “Who is the enemy?” Bush’s answer: “unpredictability.” And perhaps it is just diplo-speak, but it is all the same music to Shevardnadze’s ears, when the American president combines his own “Europe whole and free” phrase with Gorbachev’s “common European home” and remarks that the latter idea is “very close to our own.”
DOCUMENT 10: Memorandum of Conversation between George Bush and Eduard Shevardnadze in Washington, May 6, 1991
Source: FOIA request to the George H.W. Bush presidential library.
This is Shevardnadze’s last meeting with President Bush, and he appears only in his unofficial capacity as president of the Moscow-based Foreign Policy Association. Shevardnadze resigned as foreign minister in December 1990, warning against the coming dictatorship, and protesting Gorbachev’s turn toward the hard-liners. But here Shevardnadze comes to Washington asking for support for the embattled reform still underway in the Soviet Union. He describes the dismal situation in his country, pointing specifically to economic instability, the nationalities crisis, and the rising conservative opposition. He regrets delays on every important issue, especially the Union treaty that would precipitate the hard-line coup in August 1991: “if we had offered this treaty in 1987 or even 1988, all would have signed it.” But most of all, the former foreign minister is “concerned, indeed frightened, by the pause in our relations.” He urges Bush not to delay the planned Moscow summit (it would ultimately happen at the very end of July) and to keep engaging with Gorbachev. In effect, progress in U.S.-Soviet relations has become the only strong card Gorbachev has left to play in the context of his domestic crises.
Bush and Shevardnadze talk about Gorbachev’s relationship with Russian leader Boris Yeltsin and wonder why they cannot find a way to work together. Shevardnadze appeals to Bush to move fast on reductions in conventional forces (CFE) and in nuclear weapons (START) because “demilitarization is the best way to help the Soviet Union.” For Bush, however, completing these two treaties remains a precondition for even holding the 1991 summit. Shevardnadze’s plea for farm credits is especially poignant; a year earlier, he sought economic partnership, but now he says, “We must let people [in the Soviet Union] feel something tangible. I know it is hard, but if it is possible, give the credits.” Prophetically, Shevardnadze remarks, “Even if we can’t maintain a single Soviet Union, reform will continue.”