In the rough dialect of the Georgian farmland he calls home, his name, Shevardnadze, means “the falcon.” It is a singularly fitting appellation: at 62, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze has shown himself capable of seizing the opportunities that history has thrown in his path with all the alacrity of his namesake bird of prey. As one of the most powerful men in the Kremlin, after Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, he has made clear his determination to change the course of his country’s history—and to reshape profoundly its relationship with its neighbors, allies and adversaries. Even in photographs, Shevardnadze’s hawkish profile and intense stare single him out among other leaders. Said one Western diplomat who watched the Soviet minister in action at the open-skies conference in Ottawa last week: “The combination of Gorbachev and Shevardnadze is one of the most powerful political duets in recent times.”
During his five-day Ottawa visit, the falcon of the Kremlin showed his characteristic ability to master the often turbulent winds of international politics. With equal parts of steel and charm, he worked with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker to secure a troop-cutting deal that will see the two superpowers slash their garrisons in Europe to the lowest point since before the Second World War. Then, on Feb. 15, at a
joint hearing of the Senate and House of Commons committees on external affairs, the snowy-haired Soviet revealed another side of his personality: Shevardnadze, the political philosopher. Speaking to about 30 MPs and senators, Shevardnadze sketched a detailed portrait of a once-secretive nation struggling to correct a disheartening array of past mistakes. Declared Shevardnadze: “Our country is sick, indeed.”
Last week’s visit for the two-day conference and three further days of meetings was Canada’s first extended glimpse of the Soviet foreign minister. Frequently condemned to play a supporting role in the shadow of the charismatic Gorbachev, Shevardnadze demonstrated in Ottawa that he is a diplomatic star in his own right. Acting on several fronts, he succeeded in containing the damage to the Soviets from a series of potentially humiliating concessions to NATO demands.
For one thing, Shevardnadze moved to forestall a likely backlash against the reunification of Germany among Soviet citizens, for many of whom the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 remains a bitter personal memory. By accepting a Western Bloc proposal to have the progress of German unification monitored by a panel of six countries, including his own, Shevardnadze placed the Kremlin in a position to
slow the divided nation’s transformation into a potentially threatening European powerhouse. “No one doubts the right of Germany to selfdetermination,” he remarked during his testimony to the joint committee. “But equally, Germany’s neighbors are entitled to guarantees that Germany will not be a threat to them.”
That done, Shevardnadze vaulted the Soviets to the front of the open-skies initiative by challenging the United States to submit its military activities in the oceans and space to the same scrutiny that last week’s agreement will direct towards Soviet and American land-based « forces. For his part, Baker I rejected the Soviet’s proposg al. Still, Shevardnadze’s sug5 gestion resulted in the addition of an oblique reference in the final communiqué of the conference to “greater openness in the future in other spheres.” Remarked Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark, who chaired the conference: “We left the language general but we quite deliberately picked up on Mr. Shevardnadze’s thoughts.” That political agility reflected Shevardnadze’s early experiences as a troubleshooter for the Communist party in his native Georgia, in the southern Soviet Union. The son of a teacher in the Black Sea village of Mamati, Shevardnadze was first secretary of the Georgian Communist party at the age of 44. In that role, he was assigned to clean up the republic’s notoriously corrupt political house during the reign of then-General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. In 1976, Shevardnadze was brought to Moscow as a member of the Soviet Union’s powerful Central Committee. Nine years later, he was elevated to full membership in the ruling Politburo and, on July 2, 1985, he replaced the dour 75-year-old Andrei Gromyko as foreign affairs minister.
At first, Shevardnadze seldom ventured far from Moscow. Instead, he wielded a stiff broom in the corridors of the foreign ministry: within 12 months of his appointment, three-quarters of the Soviet Union’s ambassadors and twothirds of its consuls general were replaced. But he has since emerged as a sophisticated statesman with a keen grasp of his portfolio.
And last week, he struck a note of caution in his address to his Canadian audience. “Some politicians wish to play out a political game of rapid chess with a five-minute time limit,” he told the attentive gathering. “It is essential to proceed step by step, moving from one stage to another only when the consequences are clear.” About four hours later, the falcon took flight aboard a Soviet military transport for the long trip back home.
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