TBILISI: Tributes poured in from friends and foes yesterday after the death of former Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze, who helped end the Cold War as the Soviet Union’s last foreign minister.
Shevardnadze, who died at 86, was a controversial figure praised for his role in negotiating a bloodless end to the Soviet Union’s confrontation with the West, but despised at home for his 10 years at the helm of post-Soviet Georgia that saw him ousted in a popular uprising.
“Mr Shevardnadze died today at noon,” his aide Marina Davitashvili told AFP, weeping. “He was ill for a long time.”
He won high praise on the world stage for his time as Mikhail Gorbachev’s chief diplomat, when he oversaw arms-reduction treaties with the United States and brokered the deal that brought down the Berlin Wall.
But his 10 years as leader of his native Georgia ended with a dramatic fall from grace, when his overthrow in the 2003 Rose Revolution saw thousands dancing and singing in the streets of the capital Tbilisi.
Gorbachev described Shevardnadze as “Georgia’s ideal representative”.
“You could speak to him directly, it was good working with him,” the former Soviet leader told Russian radio.
“He was a very capable, talented man, very much predisposed to working with people, with all strata of society.”
Shevardnadze’s nemesis Mikheil Saakashvili, who succeeded him after the uprising, called him “an important statesman”.
“Historians will have to work for long time on a more accurate assessment of his role,” he wrote on Facebook, adding that he had resisted calls to prosecute his predecessor during his own stint in power.
“We respect the institute of presidency and the country’s image,” said Saakashvili, who is himself under pressure from the authorities after stepping down last year.
Georgia’s President Giorgi Margvelashvili called Shevardnadze “one of the most distinguished politicians of the 20th century” and praised his role in “dismantling the Soviet system” and helping the “birth of a new Europe”.