Documents Highlight Former Soviet Foreign Minister’s Role Toward End of Cold War

A bit of news for Cold War junkies. The non-profit National Security Archive has posted declassified U.S. government documents clarifying the role of Eduard Shevardnadze, the former Soviet Foreign Minister, in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union toward the end of the two nations’ seventy-year stand-off.

The Georgian-born Shevardnadze died recently, on July 7, at age 86. He served as the Soviet Union’s last foreign minister, a post he held from 1985 to 1991. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the general secretary, Shevardnadze became an instantly recognizable figure to those interested in diplomacy between the two superpowers.

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, the National Security Archive has obtained the documents from the presidential libraries of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, as well as from the U.S. State Department. There are documents from Russian and German state archives as well.

The documents include Politburo meeting minutes, memos of meetings between Shevardnadze and American officials in Helsinki and Moscow, and entries from the diary of Anatoly Chernyaev, one of Gorbachev’s key advisers on foreign affairs.

According to an Archive press release:

Shevardnadze’s rise to leadership of the Foreign Ministry in 1985, only months after Gorbachev became general secretary, was a “bolt from the blue,” in Chernyaev’s words. Shevardnadze’s talks with [former U.S. Secretary of State George] Shultz brought a whole new tone to U.S.-Soviet discourse, while the Soviet minister’s growing friendship with [former U.S. Secretary of State James] Baker, including 1989’s fly-fishing outing in Wyoming, led to actual partnership between the former Cold War adversaries by the time of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. But the memcons also reflect Shevardnadze’s frustration with American “pauses” and missed opportunities for dramatic arms reductions across the board, and for earlier domestic political transformation in the Soviet Union.

The Archive has does yeoman’s work in helping the public get a look at important historical documents. They definitely have a political agenda, but if you ignore the peacenik undertones of their publications, you find some excellent work by thorough historians.

Nonetheless, the documents speak for themselves. One is a record of a Politburo session from June 1985, acquired from the Russian State Archive of Contemporary History. Gorbachev’s appointment of Shevardnadze was a surprise to the Politburo, who expected outgoing foreign minister Andrei Gromyko’s deputy, Georgi Kornienko, to assume the role. Nevertheless, the Politburo yielded to Gorbachev’s choice; as an Archive note states, the general secretary had immense power, and moments such as this demonstrate that. (It is also interesting to read the document and see Gromyko’s stilted, outdated reference to Vladimir Lenin at a time when genuine belief in Soviet Communism was near zero.)

Both amateur and professional Kremlinologists will appreciate the backroom intrigue the documents reveal. Of particular interest are the various records of conversations between Shevardnadze and George Shultz regarding human rights, arms control, and missile defense. Shevardnadze’s friendlier tone is noticeable in these exchanges—a stark change from Gromyko.

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