Ex-Soviet minister and Georgia leader Shevardnadze dies

Mon Jul 7, 2014 5:31pm EDT
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By Margarita Antidze

TBILISI (Reuters) - Eduard Shevardnadze, who as Soviet foreign minister helped bring down the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War, died on Monday after a long illness.

Shevardnadze, who was 86, went on to lead his native Georgia in the stormy early years after independence before being ousted in street protests.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who picked Shevardnadze as a break from the Soviet Union's old guard of apparatchiks, expressed sorrow over the passing of a "friend".

He described Shevardnadze, whose shock of white hair and wily diplomacy earned him the nickname "the Silver Fox", as an "extraordinary, talented person" who had done much to broker Germany's peaceful reunification and end the nuclear arms race.

"He was always quick to find a way of connecting with different people, with youngsters and the older generation. He had a bright character, a Georgian temperament," he said, referring to Shevardnadze's passionate nature.

One of those who was wooed by his charm was U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, or 'Jim' as Shevardnadze called him - a friendship that would help to shape the post-Cold War era.

"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," Baker said in a statement.

"He was an elegant and soft-spoken gentleman ... He was my friend with whom I had a special relationship," he said.   Continued...

Georgia's former President Eduard Shevardnadze speaks during an interview with Reuters at his residence in Tbilisi September 4, 2009. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili