WORLD

A WARNING SHOT

SOVIET FOREIGN MINISTER EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE RESIGNS, GIVING A CLEAR VICTORY TO HARD-LINERS

JOHN BIERMAN December 31 1990
WORLD

A WARNING SHOT

SOVIET FOREIGN MINISTER EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE RESIGNS, GIVING A CLEAR VICTORY TO HARD-LINERS

JOHN BIERMAN December 31 1990

A WARNING SHOT

SOVIET FOREIGN MINISTER EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE RESIGNS, GIVING A CLEAR VICTORY TO HARD-LINERS

WORLD

The reassuring figure of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze suddenly and unexpectedly left the international arena last week. His departure caused alarm from Washington and Ottawa to London and Berlin. “I cannot reconcile myself with what is happening in my country,” the usually soft-spoken Shevardnadze told the Soviet parliament. “Dictatorship is gaining ground. The reformers have left the stage.” With that, the 62-year-old Georgian resigned from the post in which, over the past five years, he had helped his political leader and mentor, Mikhail Gorbachev, to change the political map of the world. The immediate reaction abroad was one of shock, astonishment—and deep concern. Senior Western statesmen were careful not to express that concern too openly. But a ranking NATO official in Brussels, who wished to remain anonymous, clearly voiced the fears of many when he said, “This is more than just one man resigning— it’s a major blow to the whole reform process in the Soviet Union.”

Some analysts even said that Shevardnadze’s departure indicates that Gorbachev, too, may soon be forced from office. At the very least, they said, it was a victory for the Communist party and for military hard-liners, whose influence over Gorbachev has grown as the nation’s political and economic fortunes have declined. For the past year, senior military officers have privately characterized Shevard-

nadze as a traitor because of the part he played in dismantling the Soviet Union’s Eastern European empire. Shevardnadze was the second leading reformer to fall from power in the past month, following the firing of Interior Minister Vadim Bakatin on Dec. 2 and his replacement by hard-liner Boris Pugo.

The effect of Shevardnadze’s resignation on Soviet relations with the West remained uncertain. In Ottawa, External Affairs Minister Joe Clark declared, “This is a very troubling time.” And he added that Shevardnadze and Gorbachev had been “the symbols of a reform movement in the Soviet Union in which Canadians had placed a great deal of confidence.” But U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said that he accepts Gorbachev’s assurance that the Kremlin’s foreign policy will not change. As a result, Baker said, he did not expect a weakening of Kremlin support for the United States in the Persian Gulf crisis. He added that Gorbachev and President George Bush still plan to meet in Moscow in February to sign a strategic arms reduction treaty. In fact, said Larry

Black, director of the Ottawa-based Centre for Canadian-Soviet Studies, “I don’t think Shevardnadze’s resignation was a foreign policy issue at all.” And Jerry Hough, senior fellow at Washington’s independent Brookings Institution, commented, “My sense is that it had to do with nationality policy.”

Shevardnadze’s brief but emotional resignation speech seemed to support that. Although conservative party members had recently criticized Shevardnadze’s support for U.S. Gulf policy, his resignation followed Gorbachev’s threat of drastic action against republics that are threatening to secede from the Soviet Union. Those include Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Shevardnadze’s home republic of Georgia. And in an address to the 2,250-member Congress of People’s Deputies last week, Gorbachev warned that he was prepared to take direct control of the Baltic republics. When Shevardnadze resigned the next day, many deputies reacted with apparent astonishment, while Gorbachev looked on impassively. Later, however, he condemned his colleague for resigning without first consulting him. “To leave at this time is unforgivable,” Gorbachev declared.

In Washington, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said that Shevardnadze’s departure indicated the seriousness of the situa-

tion in the Soviet Union, where unprecedented peacetime food shortages are aggravating overall political instability. Baker seemed genuinely regretful. “I am proud to call this man a friend,” he said. “We achieved some significant things in the 23 months we worked together.” During that period, Baker and Shevardnadze, who was Communist party chief in Georgia when Gorbachev named him foreign minister in 1985, built up a close personal relationship. They worked out the details of landmark armscontrol agreements and found common ground on such critical issues as the liberation of Eastern Europe, German reunification and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was among many Western states-

men who paid tribute to Shevardnadze: “We worked outstandingly together.”

At European Community headquarters in Brussels, the resignation led to expressions of deep concern about a return to Stalinistic repression in the Soviet Union. Said EC spokesman Nico Wegter: “It should serve as a warning that Europe must redouble its efforts to help the political and economic reforms under way.” Earlier, NATO foreign ministers had taken the position that Western aid to Moscow is conditional on a continuation of democratic reforms. Bush, too, had made it clear before Shevardnadze’s departure that U.S. economic and financial aid to Moscow is dependent on further democratization. For that reason, many Sovietologists expressed doubt that Gorbachev would surrender completely to the hard-liners. Said Ottawa analyst Black: “If they anger the Americans, they will lose a lot of aid, and I don’t think they would risk that. Gorbachev may be a prisoner of events, but I don’t think he is yet a prisoner of the Old Guard.” A far more pessimistic view prevailed in liberal circles in Moscow. Said Leonid Mlechin, a commentator for the Soviet weekly New Times:“There could be no more clear signal to the world that our right-wingers and our military-industrial complex do not want arms re-

ductions or collaboration with the West.” And in London, some analysts said that Shevardnadze’s departure is a sign that Gorbachev’s own position is in jeopardy. Shevardnadze himself hinted at that possibility when he said in his speech that “no one knows what kind of dictatorship there will be and who will be the dictator.” That might have been an emotional overstatement—or a realistic prediction. At the start of a hard winter of Soviet discontent, neither could be ruled out.

JOHN BIERMAN

ANTHONY WILSONSMITH

PETER LEWIS

HILARY MACKENZIE