This Day in History | 1984 Gorbachev visit to Britain a ‘success’

Mikhail Gorbachev, the man widely tipped as the next leader of the Soviet Union, has spent five hours in “very friendly” talks with the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, according to British Government officials.

But Soviet officials described the talks much less enthusiastically as “business-like”.

Topics discussed at Mrs Thatcher’s country residence Chequers included ending the arms war and improving communications between the Eastern Bloc and the West.

It came after Mr Gorbachev signalled his desire for reduced tensions when he arrived at Heathrow airport yesterday.

“Opportunities for the prevention of nuclear war exist. These opportunities must be used to the full,” he said yesterday.

But talks between Mrs Thatcher and the second-in-command at the Kremlin did not include contentious issues such as human rights in the Communist state.

Official sources remained tight-lipped on the exact exchange of words but did reveal the two delegations did not agree on the causes of world problems but were united on the importance of diffusing them.

The meeting lasted longer than expected and it is understood Mr Gorbachev gave Mrs Thatcher a private message from the country’s president Konstantin Chernenko.

It outlined the Soviet Union’s commitment to arms talks with America which will be held in three weeks’ time.

Today’s talks appear to signal a thaw in relations between the West and the Soviet Union.

The visit itself is a significant development in the relationship between Britain and the USSR as Mr Gorbachev is the first Soviet politician of his stature to visit in 28 years.

His eight-day stay in the West is the longest of any statesman from behind the Iron Curtain.

Once the talking was over Mr Gorbachev and his wife Raisa enjoyed sightseeing in London, visiting the library from where Lenin first produced his newspaper Iskra in 1903.

The couple, followed by a large security entourage, also visited the British Library and saw the seat where Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital.

Courtesy BBC News

In context

Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985 after the death of Chernenko, and became president in 1988.

He tried to reform the USSR by restructuring the economy, known as “perestroika”, and encouraging greater openness – “glasnost”.

But his reforms did not go far enough – they failed to stimulate the economy and sparked off greater demands from Soviet republics for independence.

In August 1991 Mr Gorbachev was almost outsted in an attempted coup by Communist hardliners. He returned to power but had lost so much prestige that by December he was forced to resign.

The USSR ceased to exist and fractured into single states.

Since then, Mr Gorbachev always popular in the West, has become a regular on the celebrity guest speaker and seminar circuit.

He is seen as one of the people responsible for ending the Cold War and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

His wife Raisa died in September 1999 from cancer.

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