Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, architect of Mikhail Gorbachev's foreign policy that freed Eastern Europe and ended the Cold War, resigned Thursday to protest conservative attacks and warn of the danger of an "impending dictatorship."
Gorbachev condemned the decision of his close ally and said he had not been consulted before Shevardnadze's surprise announcement at the Congress of People's Deputies, which voted 1,540-52 to ask Shevardnadze to reconsider."Such a step, taken without consultation with the president, I personally condemn," Gorbachev said. "Moreover, I will tell you directly that I had reached a point in my plans where I was ready to recommend comrade Shevardnadze for vice president.
"Now is perhaps the most difficult time, and to leave now is unforgiveable."
Presidential spokesman Vitaly Ignatenko said Shevardnadze indicated to Gorbachev after the speech he would stay at the Foreign Ministry long enough to allow a smooth transition, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin said the decision to resign was final.
"In any case, the political life of Shevardnadze will be long," Ignatenko told reporters. "He may occupy any other post."
The foreign ministers of Germany and France appealed urgently for an international effort to bolster Gorbachev's reform program with financial aid.
"This appeal is more urgent than ever before," said Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Germany's foreign minister and a close friend of Shevardnadze.
"I hope that this cry of alarm will be heard," said French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas. "It will serve as a warning to Western countries and others who are dragging their feet over aid, which must be given."
In Washington, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said there would be no immediate comment from the administration because "it's not entirely clear yet" what the situation is in the Soviet Union.
But U.S. Gen. John R. Galvin, NATO's military commander in Europe, said, "The Soviets certainly face a bleak winter. I hope what we're hearing now doesn't make it any worse."
Shevardnadze said he was "deeply hurt" by the personal attacks from critics of his foreign policy. More importantly, he said, conservative "reactionary" forces in the country were being allowed to move against the ideals of perestroika with littleresistance.
Shevardnadze recalled conservative attacks on him for "giving away Eastern Europe" at July's 28th Communist Party Congress and at recent sessions of the Supreme Soviet or standing parliament.
"There was not one person besides the chairman who could be found who would say this was dishonorable, this is not the way to act, this is not the way things are done in a civilized government," Shevardnadze said.
He said the conservative backlash was continuing almost unimpeded, mentioning a publication by the right-wing Russian nationalist movement Pamyat that said "down with the clique of Gorbachev."
"I say to you democrats, in the broadest sense of the word, you ran off," he said. "The reformers fled to the bushes."
Shevardnadze said he feared the recent upsurge of criticism from the right would lead to the return of a dictatorship in the country, but he made it clear he was not attacking his close ally, Gorbachev.
"No one knows what kind of dictatorship it will be and who will come to power, who will be the dictator and what kind of regime it will be," Shevardnadze said.
"(Therefore), I would like to make the following announcement. I am resigning," he said. "Don't dare make any reactions. Don't try to dissuade me. Don't scold me.
"Let this be my contribution if you wish, my protest against the impending dictatorship.
"I consider it my duty as a man, as a citizen and as a Communist. I cannot reconcile myself to all the events that are occurring in our country.
"I am nevertheless sure that a dictatorship will not happen, that our future is one of democracy, of freedom."
The delegates to the fourth Congress of People's Deputies listened to the speech in stunned silence, then rose and gave him a standing ovation.
Leaders of the "Soyuz" group of deputies that has been calling for a return to state control said they were pleased that Shevardnadze was leaving.
"This deed of his was unseemly, but it was a step in the right direction," said Col. Viktor Alksnis, a founder of the group. "Shevardnadze is leaving a sinking ship."
Most officials and deputies agreed, however, that Shevardnadze's decision to quit was a blow to Soviet foreign policy and Gorbachev's government in general.
"Shevardnadze's step is a deliberate sacrifice," Deputy Nikolai Medvedev said. "It is aimed at making the reformers think better of it, to rouse us and look at the situation in the country."
Shevardnadze said he would like to give his "deepest thanks" to Gorbachev. "I am his friend and we think alike," he said.
"I support now and I will support to the end of my days the ideals of perestroika, the idea of the renewal of our society, the idea of democratization," Shevardnadze said. "We accomplished marvels."
As foreign minister, Shevardnadze has traveled the world to carry out Soviet foreign policy. He was responsible for the negotiations that led to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and was instrumental in the changes in Eastern Europe and the reunification of Germany.
Recently he has been a key to the diplomatic maneuvering in the Persian Gulf crisis, meeting frequently with his American counterpart, James Baker, as the two superpowers formulated a common strategy.