Exclusive: Inside the Kremlin as the Berlin Wall Fell

Gorbachevs Chief Ally Remembers the Fall of the Berlin Wall

A small piece of rainbow-colored stone, engraved with the words "Eduard, Danke" ("Eduard, Thank you!" in German) has a place of pride on a shelf in Eduard Shevardnadze's study in the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

This fragment of the Berlin Wall is one of the most treasured possessions of a man whom many credit with helping bring down the Berlin Wall and eventually end the Cold War.

Shevardnadze was the last foreign minister of the Soviet Union under President Mikhail Gorbachev, and had an insider's view of the wall's collapse and the repercussions it had throughout the Soviet empire and the West.

VIDEO: Fall of the Berlin Wall
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"The fall of the Berlin Wall was an historic event, the essential step toward the reunification of Germany, essential in the program of reforms that Gorbachev and I had in mind. Without it, the Cold War would not have ended," Shevardnadze said in an interview with ABC News at his home.

On Nov. 9, 1989, the East German government issued a statement waiving "preconditions" for East Germans to travel to the West. Within hours thousands of East Germans were streaming through the gates. The barriers that had been thrown up in 1961 to split the city into heavily armed camps were being dismantled, and the wall would soon come down.

"Sheva," as he was nicknamed in the West, is now an 81-year-old Georgian with a dry wit and feeble smile. He was in Moscow in 1989, receiving updates from USSR representatives in Berlin, when they got the news about the opening.

"Gorbachev and I flew to Berlin immediately," he said, where they met with East German leaders, including the country's iron fisted dictator Erich Honecker. But their first priority was the fear of a violent reaction from the Soviet army that was stationed in East Germany. They wanted to send a clear signal of support for the new freedom, he said.

"There were half a million Soviet soldiers in East Germany ready to react, but the use of violence was unacceptable for both of us. We were determined to prevent a war," Shevardnadze said.

Shevardnadze says it was the German people who brought down the wall.

"It came as no surprise, but Moscow didn't prevent it or help it. A process had started, and it was just a question of time," he said. "The change was in the air, although no one really knew what would happen."

The destruction of the Berlin Wall was the most significant result so far of Gorbachev's liberalizing policy that had been dubbed perestroika that began three years earlier in 1986. The wall's collapse had a domino effect that accelerated the process of perestroika and led to German reunification, the end of the Cold War, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

The inevitablility of German's reunification was acknowledged less than a year after the wall came down during a meeting of foreign ministers who assembled in Ottawa to discuss other issues.

"The decision was reached in Ottawa in February 1990," Shevardnadze said. "After the official talks (U.S. Secretary of State) James Baker came to me and said, 'Eduard, do you think that perhaps the time has come for Germany's unification?' I told him he should ask the Germans, and he replied that (Hans-Dietrich) Genscher (the West German foreign minister) had already agreed."

But not everyone was convinced. France and the United Kingdom feared the formation of a giant, unified Germany in the center of Europe.

Nor was Gorbachev's position clear. "I told Baker I needed to talk to Gorbachev. I remember calling him and explaining the plan to form a working group -- the so called Two Plus Four, meaning East and West Germany and the winners of the Second World War, U.S., France, United Kingdom and Soviet Union -- to work on the reunification.

"He was silent for two minutes, then said something like 'You know what, Eduard? Sooner or later this matter has to be resolved.' It was a yes."

There were many who disagreed in Moscow, especially in the Politburo and the army ranks. Chief of Staff Sergei Akhromeyev was against it since the Soviet Army would have to withdraw, and a unified Germany would swell NATO with some 370,000 troops. It was a lot to digest.

"Don't forget that over 20 million people from the Soviet Union died in the Second World War. For many people giving up Germany was like forgetting that human sacrifice," Shevardnadze said.

Eventually the waves set off by perestroika and the downfall of the Berlin Wall reached the Kremlin, he said.

Shevardnadze has engraved in his mind the words he used to described the USSR to Gorbachev during a meal in early 1980s while the two friends were on a holiday on the lush coast of Abkhazia, on the Black Sea. Gorbachev had not yet risen to the presidency of the Soviet Union.

"The system is rotten," Shevardnadze told his future boss. Together, they presided over the break-up of the USSR.

After the Soviet Union was dissolved, Shevardnadze returned to Georgia and served as his country's president from 1995 to 2003 when the "Rose Revolution" toppled him.

He has since retired from the public life. Today from his residence overlooking Tbilisi, surrounded by beautiful Caucasus shepherd dogs and high trees, he welcomes President Obama as "the man with a vision."

"His decision to not deploy a missile shield in central Europe shows prudence. The plan created the premises for a new Cold War as Russia considered it a direct threat and was planning to deploy rockets in Kaliningrad (a Russian enclave near Poland) in retaliation," he said.

For the man who believed in the end of the Cold War, those times should not return. Asked if he's got any regrets, he shakes his head. "I would do all of it again. We ended the Cold War, stopped the armaments race, and created a new world order."

"Today the world is a safer place," he said.

A rainbow-colored stone in his study serves to remind him that he helped write that chapter of history.

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