Upon meeting Mikhail Gorbachev for the first time in 1984, just prior to his becoming general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described him as “a man we can do business with.”
Gorbachev’s rejection of crushing freedom movement in the Soviet bloc, the easing of censorship in the media and cultural life, and his support of a landmark nuclear arms control agreement with the USA won him much praise abroad—far more than he ever received in his own country. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
“I do not relieve myself of responsibility for the initiated reforms because I am still deeply convinced that they were vital and ultimately will serve the wellbeing of my Motherland and will be beneficial for the world,” Gorbachev wrote in a two-volume book called “Life and Reforms,” published in 1995.
How Much Should We Credit Gorbachev for the End of the Cold War?In April 1987, three years after her initial meeting with Gorbachev, Thatcher made an official visit to the Soviet Union. As she recounted in her memoirs, “The Downing Street Years,” one of the first stops on her trip was to the Russian Orthodox Monastery at Zagorsk.
At the time, the Soviet authorities still had very tight controls on the practice of religion—indeed, Thatcher was accompanied to the monastery by the Soviet “minister for religious affairs.” There was an increase in the number of churches that were allowed to reopen and the number of seminarians allowed to study.
As Thatcher wrote: “We were ready to fight the battle of ideas: indeed, this was the right way to fight.”
However, she had confidence in Gorbachev’s basic integrity.
An interview she gave to journalists from Soviet state television, in which nuclear weapons and the huge Soviet superiority in conventional and chemical armaments formed a majority of the discussion, was allowed to be broadcast uncut.
Discussion between the two leaders focused on defence matters and arms control. President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), dubbed “Star Wars,” clearly had Gorbachev and his comrades spooked.
Thatcher tells how Gorbachev promised that the Soviets would match SDI but that she was not convinced. The Soviets were desperate for arms agreements, but that Gorbachev was clearly worried about being humiliated by the West.
The American defence build-up under Reagan stretched the Soviet economy to the breaking point until Gorbachev accepted it needed to reform or die and ensured his agreements for deeper nuclear arms limitation.
Gorbachev presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall, but it was Reagan, Thatcher and Papa Wojtyla who created the climate of change that allowed it to happen.
Yes, Mikhail Gorbachev deserves his place in history, but if it weren’t for Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, he might not have one.