Gorby VS Thatcher: How the USSR charmed Iron Lady

Updated: 2014-01-03 09:43

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In contrast to the stagnation of the Brezhnev era, Gorbachev, then just 53, and his elegant wife, Raisa, convinced Thatcher that if he became Soviet leader he could offer the West an opening after years of stalemate.

Thatcher's analysis proved both influential and perceptive: Reagan was slowly convinced, the Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989 and the Soviet Union itself collapsed seven years after Gorbachev's visit to London.

"She told me that Gorbachev was different from any of the other Kremlin leaders," Reagan told journalists in 1990. "She believed that there was a chance for a great opening. Of course, she was proven exactly right."

In the 16th-century country retreat of British leaders known as Chequers, Thatcher sparred with Gorbachev for hours over restrictions on Jewish emigration, the fate of dissidents such as physicist Andrei Sakharov and the merits of capitalism and communism.

Thatcher said British trade union leaders such as Arthur Scargill gave communism a bad name as they didn't hold ballots and intimidated miners into striking. She also alluded to possible Soviet financial help for unions, according to notes taken on the meeting by her advisers.

Gorbachev said that Thatcher should not blame anyone but Britain for its problems, and that the Soviet Union had transferred no funds to the National Union of Mineworkers, adding "as far as I'm aware" to his answer after what British officials described as a "sideways glance" at his adviser.

After lunch concluded with a toast to the domestic ambience and good atmosphere, Gorbachev and Thatcher had a much more private battle - fuelled by coffee in the sitting room - over the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States.