Zamyatin Leonid Mitrofanovich - with 1946 - on diplomatic work: was the adviser of the Soviet delegation in the United Nations, the constant representative of the USSR in Advice MAGATE, 1962 - 1970 worked in the device the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR.
Photo: Vasily Shaposhnikov
“Thatcher had a Definite Womanish Feeling towards Gorbachev”
Vlast continues with the series of interviews with the individuals who shaped USSR's foreign policy during the perestroika years*. This time Vlast's correspondent Marina Kalashnikova met with the former head of the Central Committee's international information department, USSR's former ambassador to Great Britain Leonid Zamyatin.
- You were a witness to the famous conversation between Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher in December 1984 in Mrs. Thatcher's county residence Chequers. It is considered that it was then that the future General Secretary made his debut with his new thinking. Who was it that put the idea of discussing such things with the British premier into his head?
- I can't say for sure. He prepared for the trip to Thatcher in Pitsunda and there was nobody but Raisa Maksimovna there with him. He called me about ten days before the trip: “You know, I had an unpleasant conversation with Gromyko. He will not delegate anybody to help prepare the visit and will not send anybody on the trip with me. He thinks that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs does not need that.” As for Chequers, this was how it went: they sat down in arm-chairs at a fireplace, Thatcher took off her patent-leather shoes, tucked her feet under her chair and got out her handbag. Gorbachev reached into his pocket and suddenly said: “Could we do without those papers?” He had an instruction “On Conversation with Thatcher” which had been approved of, etc. “Gladly!” she responded. And she put her paper back into this handbag. He said that it was high time to give up the cold war. There are values common to all mankind so let us guarantee these values and not oppose each other. Isn't it time to take up complex disarmament? She agreed and in her turn brought up the question on the emigration of Jews from the USSR. Gorbachev responded: “We are actually thinking about that.” She insisted: “This needs to be solved.” Then she said: “Your trade unions are helping our coal-miners with money. They have been on strike five months already. The strike continues. It is doing a great damage to the economy of England. For the time being I take that quite calmly. But I request that your trade-unions should cease the financial support otherwise we will resort to sanctions.” Gorbachev was taken aback and said that he had nothing to do with the trade unions. The politesse that followed was varied. She reminded him that they had met under tragic circumstances – at Andropov's burial. “I remember how you took care of me. It was frosty and I was wearing thin stockings and a light suit.” Gorbachev responded: “Well, we always treat guests….” And so on. As she appeared in front of the correspondents she pronounced her famous: “I like Mr.Gorbachev. We can do business together.”
- Did you think at times that Thatcher's attitude towards Gorbachev was more than simply official?
- When he came she would always be dressed stylishly. They never wear furs in England. But when she met him she would always have some new fur. Thatcher had a definite womanish feeling towards Gorbachev. Let's say it was sympathy. She changed when he appeared.
- Was this mutual?
- No, he had a feeling towards Raisa Maksimovna.
- How did Thatcher react to the news about Gorbachev's capture during the GKChP days?
- It was from her that I actually found out about the coup. She called me at eight in the morning and said very angrily: “Mister Ambassador, do you know what is happening in Russia?” – “I am sorry, madam, I don't.” – “Well, then turn on your TV set and see for yourself. I need permission for the flight of an English aircraft to Russia. You are flying with me. I will take a doctor along. Gorbachev must be sick. Maybe dying. I must be in Russia!”
- As we know that time the situation spared Thatcher's visit. What was it that made them close in politics?
- Great Britain owed its economic recovery to Thatcher. But just like Gorbachev she needed access to the big foreign political arena. This was where they found points of contact. Gorbachev needed Thatcher first and foremost for the future, for contacts with Americans. I arrived in London on April 27, 1986 on the eve of Thatcher's departure to the session of the Seven in Tokyo. Before I left Gorbachev told me: “Make sure she receives you and tell her that I want to meet with president Reagan. I have a set of issues that unite us in the spirit of the conversation we had with Thatcher in 1984. Our foreign policy should be united – not unconsolidated.” I arrived and asked for Thatcher's audience. I was told: “ You are crazy. You don't have accreditation yet.” One receives accreditation from the Queen twenty days after the arrival. I turned to her assistant Charles Powell: “I beg you – I have to see the prime minister.” I was granted an audience. I think this was the first audience of the kind in the history of the British protocol. I told her everything that Gorbachev had said. And she arranged for his meeting with Reagan.
- What was it that she wanted in return?
- Thatcher took fast hold of this channel between the USSR and the USA to enhance her political significance as the British premier. She managed that. For example, in 1987 Gorbachev decided to sign the agreement with the Americans on the destruction of the SS-20 missiles. He was already getting ready for his trip to the USA. Everything had been prepared. However, Thatcher said: “No! The issue has not been agreed with us.” She said the same to America. The suggestion that followed came as a shock to everyone. She summoned me and said: “Please, tell Gorbachev that I am prepared to receive him on his way to Washington for 2-3 hours at our Brize Norton base where no Russian aircraft has ever been.” Every twenty minutes there is a strategic bomber taking off or landing at the base in case of a war with the USSR. I went through the KGB channels because I knew that Shevardnadze would not let my telegram through to Gorbachev. The telegram reached Kryuchkov and the latter took it directly to Gorbachev. Gorbachev called Shevardnadze and said: “We will make a stop at Brize Norton”.
- Which agreements were reached at the base?
- Thatcher consented to the signing of the agreement on the liquidation of SS-20.
- Did Gorbachev manage to understand why SS-20 were at all deployed?
- The Dutch said that in reality the number of the missiles was twice as greater than what we admitted. Gorbachev summoned me and said that he wanted the numbers of Politburo's decisions on the deployment of medium-range missiles aimed at Europe. I went to the general department; we searched the catalogues – found nothing. I went back to Gorbachev: “There is no decision on the number of missiles deployed. There is only a fundamental decision.” Gorbachev told me: “See, and the Dutch name figures. How were such issues solved in general?” Once I did see how the decisions were made. Ustinov came to Brezhnev and said: “It would be good if we added a couple dozen medium-range missiles aimed at Europe.” I heard what Brezhnev answered: “Dima, for God's sake make the decision on your own. If you need twenty – station twenty. If you need forty – station forty.” This was not drawn up in the form of a document.
- Against the background of the kind Gorbachev's coming was a major progress.
- My opinion about him was shaped under the influence of my work with the leadership, which was two generations my senior. Those were sick people who were unable to solve issues in a normal way. By the way this was how a whole galaxy of assistants appeared. They prepared materials for the leadership. I in particular was part of the Central Committee's commission on Poland that was headed by Suslov. I saw our leadership work. Sometimes they would write on their own. Sometimes they would say: “Zamyatin, dictate.” Then they went to Brezhnev who came around 17.00 after an hour's rest. Chernenko would join in. Chernenko's mission was as follows: if Brezhnev did not understand something he explained things to him using a set of words, which Chernenko knew and which reached Brezhnev's mind. However, Gorbachev's merit is greater. Having come to power he dared to reconstruct the things that had been viewed as unshakable since 1917. For example, the freedom of the press. When Brezhnev signed the Helsinki agreement in 1975 he mentioned the “third basket”, which included the freedom of information: “Do you mean to say that we will let them sell all these papers in our country? We have signed it. But so what?” There was immense fear of information.
- What can you say about Gorbachev's circle?
- Gorbachev's circle solved nothing. Gorbachev had Yakovlev. It was under the influence of the latter that Gorbachev started reconsidering a whole number of his obkom concepts. Thus, in 1982 when Gorbachev visited Canada, Yakovlev took him to the country's prime minister. The latter told Gorbachev about the set-up of their society, about market economy and other things. This was what served as an impetus for Gorbachev. He spent the required ten days on the trip and then stayed for two more weeks. As for Yakovlev, I remembered what he said when I was transferred to the Central Committee: “Listen, Leonid, isn't it about time that we made a revolution?” Back then he headed a sector. I had the impression that it was a provocateur talking to me. I heard this from him several times. I think that in Canada they struck up a friendship and when Gorbachev came to London in 1984 the first thing that he told me was that it was necessary to summon Yakovlev from Canada.
- How come that neither Thatcher nor the Canadian premier managed to impart to Gorbachev the idea of a major economic reform?
- Gorbachev was afraid that he could lose power if he removed all the social principles - not just references to them. And of course his make-up was such that he was not ready to go ahead with the extreme decisions, which were prepared by groups of economists. The thing is that every economist is obsessed by his theory of economic development – Petrakov, Abalkin and so on. Gorbachev did not know the ropes in the matter and could not make a choice.
- How major was the difference between the opinion of the political and the military leadership under Gorbachev?
- Back then the military were blind. Especially in GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate). This was the most conservative block of the Soviet system. In KGB there were people who could analyze the political situation - though there were blunders there as well. In GRU they made too strong a stake upon the direct financial interest of the agents. They often provided us with the political information, which we simply laid aside. For example, there were people who said that Afghanistan would surrender in just a ten-days time.
- How dangerous was the military escalation of those years?
- Reagan came to power thanks to the slogans that Russia was an empire of evil. Quite naturally this aggravated the situation. Apart from that there also was a lot of bluff on both sides. Our test specimen could not engage a flying object that imitated the launching of an American missile. When I told Akhromeyev: “Hey, listen, our launching failed – we missed again,” he answered: “And who ever thought that we would hit the target?” At the same time we issued a whole number of propaganda reports, according to which, we already had the means that made it possible to destroy American missiles as they were launched. The USA did the same. Despite the fact that at all the assemblies formally we stood for universal and complete disarmament we never approached this issue seriously. We feared control because we often bluffed. Especially in the sphere of nuclear weapons. One should admit though that Gorbachev scrutinized this process of disarmament and the mechanism of negotiations. He brought up a clear question with the military: what is it that prevents us from signing the agreement on a universal and complete nuclear disarmament? They responded: We cannot open up our territory! Gorbachev: “What are you afraid of? We will also exercise control.”
- Your opinion about president Reagan.
- He was a narrow-minded person. Though he was interesting in his own way.
- What do you mean?
- At the first meeting in Geneva in 1985 I was sitting at the table of negotiations not far from Gorbachev. Reagan was delivering his speech. He did not have a single paper! Whereas Gorbachev had a whole stack. Afterwards I asked Secretary of State Schultz how their president managed to memorize text. He said: he is an actor; he learns it all by heart. Ask him ten minutes later - he will remember nothing. This was why no serious issues were discussed at the dinner table. He had been coached for Russian jokes – three of four of them – so he went ahead with the jokes. Gorbachev tried to get in a word about politics at dinner but nothing came out of it. He told me: “Schultz must be right. The president has not memorized anything about politics, he is not prepared.”
- Has anything changed when Bush Senior came to power?
- I was a witness to the following conversation. In July 1991, after the plenum of the Central Committee Gorbachev attended the meeting of the Seven in London. He had a secret meeting with Bush at the country residence of the American ambassador. Bush said then: “In NATO we have discussed the situation in Russia and it is not clear to us whether Gorbachev will manage to maintain the Soviet Union. Or at least some other form of the Soviet Union – a federation or confederacy. We would rather deal with one nuclear state than with five or four.”
- In other words as he was losing influence Gorbachev failed to live up to the hopes of the USA, didn't he?
- For a long time he could not determine his position on the signing of the union treaty – what he wanted instead of the Soviet Union. Ultimately this resulted in Yeltsin's formula of the CIS – an abortive form of an empire after the pattern of England or France.
The Americans had warned him beforehand about the coming coup. The Secretary of State Baker secretly visited Berlin. Bessmertnykh also came to Berlin where he learned everything. Gorbachev hoped that he was irreplaceable. He could not conceive and solve the key issue, which actually triggered off the disintegration of perestroika and the whole country in general – the national one. He perceived the independence of republics mainly as the financing of national cultures. This is an absolutely different thing though. When festivals and other events of the kind were held it was said that this was the triumph of the national policy. Had Gorbachev started with granting national independence to the republics and then signing corresponding agreements with them, we would have managed to keep the bulk of them in the composition of the confederacy. But he was frightened by the fact that parliamentarians and the regional leadership began demanding that he should divest himself of his authorities of the Secretary General, which could have been followed by the same demands in relation to his presidency.
- Nevertheless Gorbachev was sure that they would not be able to strip him of power, wasn't he?
- He was sure that without him they would be unable to split the power and that Yeltsin was not a serious figure. He in general believed only in himself. As for Foros, he was simply biding his time there. I asked his security guard Medvedev if Gorbachev could leave. He said that everything that the newspapers wrote on the subject was a lie. For example, tank tracks were laid across the road every evening throughout the whole year regardless of the fact if Gorbachev was there at the time or not. This was part of the security system. There are conduits leading from Foros directly to the aircraft park and the planes are always ready to take off. During those days Gorbachev walked with his granddaughter along the shore and watched the ships guarding him. Raisa Maksimovna was the only one who was in a flap. She had a nervous shock – because of her character. And of course she was afraid for him as well.
- During those years a lot was said about London and Moscow's attempts to somehow hamper the unification of Germany. Why did England help us to stay in Germany?
- Our position coincided with theirs. The thing is that England still hates a united Germany because it cannot stand the economic competition against it. This was why Thatcher – a pragmatic in her economic policy – always proceeded from the understanding that a divided Germany was more acceptable for England than a united one. On the eve of the fall of the Berlin wall Shevardnadze flew to London and told Thatcher: “England and the Soviet Union are one on the German issue. We need to put off the unification of Germany for as long as possible.” Thatcher answered: “This coincides with our interests.” Shevardnadze left. Some time later Thatcher invited me and said: “Your president met with Kohl in Moscow and then in Arkhyz and the decision made there is absolutely different. Ask Moscow if the position Shevardnadze mentioned has changed. I knew absolutely nothing about Arkhyz. I asked Moscow and ten days later received an answer – a most vague one. When I called Thatcher's assistant he said: “The prime minister thanks you. But she has already received most detailed information on the negotiations between Gorbachev and Kohl from the USA. It follows that your position has changed.” Then from the German sources – their ambassador in London was a most informed individual - I found out that indeed while taking a walk with Kohl Gorbachev suddenly said: “Having listened to you I would like to encourage you: “Go ahead!” Kohl did not believe it. He asked his advisor Telchik to translate the words once again. Then he wanted to go into the house, restore the conversation from the very beginning up to that point and take everything down. He said: “We are most grateful.” He immediately contacted the USA. However, nobody from the USSR informed Thatcher.
- How can you explain this act of Gorbachev?
- He always wanted to be recognized as a political figure in the West. We could have made big money on the withdrawal of troops. We could have left part of our contingent there. Gorbachev surrendered everything. His relations with the GDR leadership and with Honecker could have played a certain role in the German issue. They could not stand each other. Gorbachev met with some their figures bypassing Honecker. In particular, with Markus Wolf, the chief of the intelligence. Wolf passed on the information on what was happening in the politburo of the GDR. Gorbachev was well informed. In particular he knew about the trips of Honecker's special envoys to the FRG. Through KGB Wolf passed it all to Moscow.
- What do you think was Gorbachev's key mistake as a politician?
- He was late with the creation of a new party. Because of his indecision he waited until it was too late – when the initiative was snatched away by such people as Popov, Aleksandr Yakovlev and the like. In July 1991, during lunch in our embassy Gorbachev told me: “My mistake was that I did not set up a social democratic party on time. When I come back from London I will write a program on 20 pages for the party.”
- What kept him from doing that?
- It was too late. He was ousted. Like Honecker.
Leonid Mitrofanovich Zamyatin. Born in 1922. Graduated from the Moscow Aviation Institute. Worked as a diplomat beginning with 1946. Was an advisor in the Soviet delegation in the UNO, a permanent representative of the USSR to the IAEA
council. 1962-1970 - worked in the apparatus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR (a member of MFA's collegium, the head of the press department). 1970-1978 – the general director of TASS. 1978-1986 – the head of the Central Committee's international information department. 1986-1991 – the Ambassador of the USSR to Great Britain.
*See interview with Aleksandr Yakovlev in #8, with Oleg Grinevsky – in #9, with Georgy Kornienko – in #10, with Dmitry Yazov – in #11, with Matvey Burlakov – in #12, with Vladimir Lobov – in #13, with Valentin Falin – in #14, with Ivan Aboimov – in #15.
All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 25, 2005