Reforming Soviet minister Shevardnadze dies

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Eduard Shevardnadze, a ground-breaking Soviet foreign minister and later the president of an independent Georgia, has died at the age of 86.

His spokeswoman, Marina Davitashvili, said he died after a long illness. She did not say where he died.

Mr Shevardnadze swept heroically across the international stage in the final years of the Soviet empire, helping topple the Berlin Wall and end the Cold War.

But as the leader of post-Soviet Georgia his career in the public eye ended in humiliation and he was chased out of his parliament and forced into retirement.

Mr Shevardnadze’s wife, Nanuli, died in 2004. The couple had a daughter and a son.

As Soviet foreign minister, he was the diplomatic face of Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalising policies. Following the wooden Andrei Gromyko, Mr Shevardnadze impressed Western leaders with his charisma, quick wit and his commitment to reform.

He helped push through the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, signed 
landmark arms control agreements and helped negotiate German reunification in 1990 – a development that Soviet leaders had long feared and staunchly opposed.

Western leaders, especially Germans, would remain grateful for Mr Shevardnadze’s work as foreign minister. But in the former Soviet Union those nostalgic for a return to superpower status lumped him with Mr Gorbachev in the ranks of the unpardonable.

Mr Shevardnadze resigned in December 1990, warning that reform was collapsing and dictatorship was imminent. A year later, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Mr Shevardnadze returned to Georgia and was elected president for a five-year term in 1995.

He survived two assassination attempts, including an assault on his motorcade with anti-tank weapons.

Although he had pursued a pro-Western policy, Georgia under Mr Shevardadze became plagued by corruption and a deterioration of democracy.