TBILISI, Georgia — Eduard Shevardnadze, a groundbreaking Soviet foreign minister and later the president of an independent Georgia, died Monday at the age of 86, his spokesman said.
Marina Davitashvili said Shevardnadze died after a long illness. She did not say where he died.
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.
As Soviet foreign minister, the white-haired man with a gravelly voice was the diplomatic face of Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalizing policies of glasnost and perestroika. Following the wooden Andrei Gromyko, Shevardnadze impressed Western leaders with his charisma, his quick wit and his commitment to Gorbachev's reform course.
"He made a large contribution to the foreign affairs policy of perestroika, and he was a true supporter of new thinking in global affairs," Gorbachev told Interfax on Monday.
Shevardnadze 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.
Shevardnadze was born on Jan. 25, 1928, in the village of Mamati near Georgia's Black Sea coast, the fifth and final child in a rural family that hoped he would become a doctor. Instead, he launched a political career at age 20 by joining the Communist Party, and received a university degree only 31 years later from a teachers' institute.
Shevardnadze's wife, Nanuli, died in 2004. The couple had a daughter and a son.