The friendship between Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher is a great instance of what politicians, often said to be skeptics, can achieve with trust and camaraderie.
As the West seeks ways to engage with Russia following the Ukraine invasion, recall the friendship that once brought the two Blocks closer during a crisis and changed the world. It was the mid-1980s. Another country was under Soviet occupation. Afghanistan had become the theatre of the cold war, with the US supporting the Mujahideen against the Soviets. Amid this, Mikhail Gorbachev visited England at the invitation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in December 1984. He was just a Politburo member then, but the astute woman immediately sensed that the visitor was of a different chip. She invited him and his wife Raisa to her country residence, which instantly led to a friendship unprecedented in the West-Soviet relations. Thatcher soon famously declared that here was the man “one could do business with”. A series of quick negotiations followed. The Berlin Wall was dismantled in less than five years. The Cold War was over.
Such were the unexpected yields that Gorbachev’s biographer Gail Sheehy later wrote that “not even the Queen of the West could have anticipated the turn their discussions would take”. Years later Gorbachev recalled that a “special relationship was born” during the December meeting that “contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country and the West and to the end of the Cold War.”
It’s a great instance of what politicians, often said to be skeptics, can achieve with trust and camaraderie. International friendships are forged on the anvil of statecraft. Senior central government officials once told this correspondent that before PM Narendra Modi makes any visit abroad, the PMO often asks the National Archives about any unique connection between the two countries. The gifts Modi takes to other countries often reflect the research undertaken by the Archives staff.