Margaret Thatcher: 90th Anniversary

Thatcher was closely watching the developments in the Soviet Union, making no scruples of pointing out what she considered mistakes.

High-ranking politicians emerge in the UK right when the country needs them the most. In the times of a systemic crisis, the country needed a man with a clear outlook and a strong-willed character. Margaret Thatcher was in full possession of those qualities, and I developed sympathy towards her before getting acquainted, heedless that I would be conversing with her in the future.

Thatcher did not shudder when a hefty movement of miners and workers from the traditional English industrial sectors was gaining momentum, while the demand for their products was plummeting. The Prime Minister managed to end the strikes and, therefore, paved UK's way to modern industry.

When Argentina attacked the Falkland Islands, even her General Staff were speaking against the war a thousand miles away from the mainland, but Thatcher would not tolerate infringement of British interests, as she understood them. Her prestige was at stake. Thatcher won the war, significantly raising the Brits' morale.

I started feeling even stronger sympathy after a meeting between Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev, future General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Not everyone in the Soviet government wanted Gorbachev to visit London. Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, for instance, tried to throw a monkey wrench into the plans for the visit. Thatcher immediately realized that Mikhail Gorbachev was the man capable of turning the Soviet Union's policy towards the needed course. In this spirit, Margaret Thatcher endorsed Gorbachev to US President Ronald Reagan. She never renounced her faith in the Perestroika leader.

In the times of Gorbachev I was accompanying Nikolai Ryzhkov, then Chairman of the Council of Ministers, at a major international event where he met with Margaret Thatcher. The meeting was taking place at the British embassy and Margaret Thatcher started the conversation with the following words: "I make myself a drink, but Russia, it seems, is on the wagon." Our anti-alcohol campaign was in full spate and Ryzhkov proudly refused. In my turn, I proudly accepted to show the lady my support.

Thatcher was closely watching the developments in the Soviet Union, making no scruples of pointing out what she considered mistakes.

"You want people to start working differently and at the same time you give them freedom of speech, they will not work in a new manner, they will only speak," Thatcher said.

The next time I met her when I was the ambassador to the UK. Thatcher was no longer in charge, though she maintained quite significant influence on the political life in the country. Both the Conservatives and the Labouristes reckoned with her. Even Tony Blair, when he became the Prime Minister of the UK, adopted a lot from "Thatcherism".

Thatcher was enthusiastically and constantly sharing her views with me. Her assistants told me after one of the conversations with her: "Congratulations, Mr. Ambassador, you have managed to put two or three phrases in."

I would like to describe one funny story that happened. I learned about Baroness Thatcher's birthday and according to the protocol offered my fellow diplomats to inform Moscow about it. Courtesy towards the former Prime Minister would never harm. "Should you really do it?" they replied, "it is not a round anniversary, Thatcher has already resigned." I insisted and the response from Moscow exceeded all my expectations. We not only received a congratulation note for Thatcher from Boris Yeltsin by an Aeroflot plane, but a present as well.

So, I called her office and they told me that it was out of the question. The birthday was planned down to the last minute. I said that it concerned Russia and its president. Eventually, I was given 10 minutes and not one second more. I stumbled in with a rather heavy box for the Baroness. She was very touched, she thanked me, but she wondered what was inside. No one provided us with the information about the content. According to English traditions, a present is opened upon reception, which is what Thatcher was trying to do, breaking her nails. It is well-known that the staff of the Russian President administration were pretty good at packaging such kind of presents. She rejected my aid, the box gave in only after officers of the secretariat arrived. Until then, they had been standing at the doors and making eerie gestures. A table lamp appeared with an Ural malachite lampshade. Margaret Thatcher exclaimed: "Oh, it matches my new dress so well!" In this respect, Thatcher was always at her best, she always looked after herself very well.

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