After Gorbachev was ousted by Boris Yeltsin (who retained the mistrust and hostility of the two), Shakhnazarov became a key figure in the newly established Gorbachev Foundation.
His loyalty to Gorbachev was unquestioned, and he was with him at many of the key moments as Soviet leader. He was at his side when Gorbachev failed to convince the East German Politbüro to reform at a strained meeting in East Berlin in October 1989. The two shared a celebratory private glass of champagne when Gorbachev was elected the first (and last) Soviet president in March 1990.
Shakhnazarov was staying at a sanatorium close to the presidential dacha at Foros in the Crimea that fateful August 1991, when he helped Gorbachev in his plans for a new Union Treaty to define relations between the republics. Indeed, the two spoke by telephone about it on the afternoon of 18 August, the last call Gorbachev took before the coup plotters moved in and cut off his contact with the outside world.
Shakhnazarov (the Russified form of Shakhnazaryan) was born into the then large Armenian community in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku. He fought with the Red Army against the Nazis in World War II in Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic republics. He graduated from the law faculty of Azerbaijan State University in 1949, and earned a doctorate in political science and philosophy at the Moscow Institute of Law in 1969. From 1952 to 1961 he was an editor at the publisher Politizdat, where he began writing books (one of his first was Burzhuaznoe gosudartsvo v epokhu imperializma-The Bourgeois State in an Age of Imperialism, 1955).
In the 1960s and 1970s he spent two spells at the international Communist magazine Problems of Peace and Socialism, based in Prague, giving him a wider perspective on the world than many of his colleagues in the Party establishment.
His political career in the Central Committee's International Department--which he joined in the early 1960s--was promoted by Fyodor Burlatsky, a member of the Socialist Countries Department who had the ear of Yuri Andropov. In March 1988, he was plucked from the department by Gorbachev to be a full-time adviser. At the same time he was building a parallel career as a political scientist and contributed to the professionalisation of the field in the later Soviet era. In 1975, he became president of the Soviet Association of Political Sciences (until 1991), and vice-president of the International Political Science Association (until 1988).
In published works he recognised that Soviet society had different interest groups--an implicit rejection of a homogenised, communist society--and advocated a greater flow of information at a time of paranoid secrecy. He also publicly rejected the use of nuclear weapons to achieve political goals.
A member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, he was elected on the Academy's list to the first semi-free Soviet parliament, the USSR Congress of People's Deputies, when it was inaugurated in 1989. He was a member of the commission to draw up a new Soviet constitution.
Shakhnazarov wrote up his memoirs of the Gorbachev years as Tsena svobody: reformatsiia Gorbacheva glazami ego pomoshchnika (The Price of Freedom: Gorbachev's Reformation through the Eyes of His Aide, 1993). He was also the author of science fiction and plays. His son, Karen Shakhnazarov, born in 1952, is a noted film director.
More radical than Gorbachev, Shakhnazarov contributed to the destruction of the system of which he had been a member, working tactically to abolish such anachronisms as the Communist Party monopoly on power. "As often happens in revolutionary situations," he later recalled, "there are things which seem banal today but which you couldn't even mention then."