On December 15, 1984, then-Politburo member Mikhail Gorbachev arrived in Great Britain for the first time for a meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The unexpectedly open and sincere atmosphere made the Iron Lady realize that Gorbachev was a new type of Soviet leader, capable of opening windows of opportunity for Western leaders to upgrade relations with the Soviet Union.
In the course of their meeting at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s official residence in the suburbs of London, Thatcher found herself greatly impressed by the new figure, whose train of thoughts differed so greatly from rigid views of the previous Soviet administration. Gorbachev stunned his British colleague by his engaging style and openness, as he voiced his agenda, which diverged from that of Soviet Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko, dubbed abroad as “Mr. No” for his rigidity. Gorbachev stated that Moscow’s major goal was to identify its soulmates in the world political arena and work out ways to move ahead in the same direction with them.
Gorbachev generally produced a furor during his visit to Great Britain not only among the political circles but also among the general population, becoming the first Soviet leader who actually smiled, and very sincerely in front of the camera, breaking the common tradition of Soviet leaders who always appeared gloomy and obscure in front of the public.
For the Brits, it was not merely a smile but a promise of a new era. This is how it was described in an American research publication “Red Star Rising: The Coverage of Mikhail Gorbachev by US network television, 1984-86”: “ 'Gorbachev… is not from the mold that gave the world generation after generation of stodgy, dour Soviet leaders... Gorbachev is a bouncy man, quick with a smile and self-assured, apparently confident of his position.' The NBC report accompanied these words with film of a smiling, jovial Gorbachev… The presence of a Soviet leader's wife, particularly a young and pleasant looking one, reinforced the idea that leadership in the Soviet Union was undergoing a change.” The London Times described Gorbachev's visit to Britain as “Enter a bear smiling.”
Soviet-British relations were distinguished by a focus on problems, mostly dealing with war and peace. In debates, Thatcher was for keeping Great Britain a nuclear power, stressing its peaceful purpose, with the presence of nuclear weapons in England ensuring England’s prestige in the world community. Gorbachev was a famous advocate for the total elimination of nuclear arsenals. However, Thatcher saw that generally, Gorbachev’s policy by no means lead to the enforcement of socialism and appreciated his efforts to introduce new progressive ideas. The development of relations between the Soviet Union and Great Britain was the most vivid example of how relations between the two countries could significantly improve, lowering tension and breaking deep-seated stereotypes ingrained by decades spent in an atmosphere of mistrust and hostility.
The meeting at Chequers was very casual. As they sat down by the fire, Thatcher curled up in a chair and prepared to ask questions according to protocol, when Gorbachev suddenly suggested that they have an on-the-spot conversation. She liked the idea and they talked about the necessity of finally doing away with the Cold War, focusing on the basic human values. Though not always on the same page, they were both very satisfied with the outcome of the conversations. It was then that Thatcher came out to the press and uttered her famous, “I like Mr. Gorbachev, we can do business together.”
Overall, Thatcher greatly contributed to establishing a positive image of the Soviet Union worldwide, and in the United States in particular. Gorbachev, too, very much appreciated Thatcher’s work and their friendship.
“Me and Thatcher are connected by years of doing business,” he said. “She has undoubtedly done a lot for her own country. She has taken up the country in a tough time when the economy was stagnating, and she succeeded in reviving it.”
Afterwards, whenever Thatcher and Gorbachev met, they always had had friendly and open talks and their relations preserved the air of friendship and sincerity.