The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1991Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Press Conference in Moscow – 1 September 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s press conference in Moscow on Sunday 1st September 1991.


I am very pleased to have had this opportunity to come to Moscow and to have a whole range of discussions throughout the day. And I want first to express the very genuine relief that I feel, and that I believe people throughout Britain and the rest of the world feel at the failure of the attempted coup and at the restoration of President Gorbachev and the legitimate government in the Soviet Union.

One of my first acts today was to lay a wreath to the memory of the few who gave their lives to the benefit of millions and I would like to pay tribute to them and to the courage of all those who risked their lives to preserve the Union’s new found liberty. I want also to express my very deep admiration of President Gorbachev and of Raisa Gorbachev who showed the most enormous strength under tremendous pressure. The failure of the coup is I believe a measure of what President Gorbachev and others have achieved over the last few years.

I was able also to convey to President Yeltsin the admiration of the British people for the stand that he took and the stand that those also with him in the White House took just a few days ago. It was above all his determination and staunch bravery which faced down the perpetrators of the coup. President Yeltsin’s leadership was essential then and will be crucial as he and the other leaders shape the future of the Soviet Union and the republics. I have invited President Yeltsin to pay an official visit to Britain and he has accepted though it will take us a little while to determine appropriate dates.

I have also had the great pleasure today of a meeting with the Prime Ministers of the three Baltic Republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. As you all know, Britain never recognised the incorporation of the Baltic republics into the Soviet Union, the European Community recognised their independence last week. Douglas Hogg, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, will be visiting the Baltic republics this week and we shall be establishing a permanent diplomatic mission in the Baltics as soon as practicable. It was very moving for all of us today to be able to raise our glasses in welcome to them as part of the international family of free nations. We will be sponsoring their entry into the United Nations and will support their entry into other international organisations.

The Soviet Union and the republics face momentous decisions and only they can take those decisions. At President Gorbachev’s request I had a second meeting with him this evening. At that meeting he was able to give me a detailed account of the intensive discussions he has been having today with representatives of the republics. Those discussions have focused on the relationship between the centre and the republics. I cannot go into detail now but the outcome of those discussions will become clear at tomorrow’s congress.

Those people I have spoken today have expressed their wish for democracy with stability, that is our interest in the West as well. The republics have to live alongside one another and to trade with one another. In all my talks today I was encouraged that people were aware of the need of the republics to work with each other and with the centre, this need exists in both the political and the economic spheres.

I have also discussed the question of nuclear weapons in my meetings today, I sought assurances from both President Gorbachev and President Yeltsin that the utmost care would be taken to ensure that nuclear weapons are kept under strict central control and that responsibility is not fragmented. They told me that they both fully endorsed this need. Stable conditions are also essential for the economic reform programme to take root and for a successful transition to a market economy.

Fifty years ago this week British ships began to bring food into Murmansk at a time of very great need for the Soviet people. Again this winter we may face the need to help the Soviet people through a period of acute difficulty. If necessary we will do so. The current requirements are for immediate assistance with food supplies and distribution but in the longer term there must be a programme of radical economic reform, we have already launched the British Government’s Know-How Fund and encouraged it to launch a major project for the complete reform of the food sector in Kiev.

The Minister of Agriculture in the United Kingdom will be chairing a meeting this week of those already involved so far, notably the British Food Consortium and of others, particularly companies involved in the distribution and marketing of food on a large scale. We hope that shortly thereafter British experts will travel to the Soviet Union as part of a lifeline team.

President Gorbachev and Mr Yeltsin have welcomed this initiative, it is one that I discussed with President Bush and I know the United States has similar projects in mind. The European Community has already earmarked 85,000 tons of food for distribution in the Soviet Union this autumn, it also has an extensive programme of food credits and technical assistance in this area. The European Community will be in touch urgently with the Soviet authorities and the republics to ensure that the food reaches those most in need. In particular I shall be urging the Community to look urgently and swiftly at the possibility of financing the purchase of food produced in Eastern Europe for distribution in the Soviet Union, this will be of mutual benefit to the Community, the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

While food aid is essential and will satisfy immediate needs, the process of economic reform requires more fundamental changes. This will involve liaison with the international monetary fund and other international financial institutions. At the meeting of the G7 summit in July we agreed that the Soviet Union should have special associate status with the International Monetary Fund. We now need to make that a reality and I have urged both President Gorbachev and President Yeltsin to nominate an individual or group who can work with the IMF. As Chairman of the G7, I have been in touch with the Managing Director of the IMF who is keen for this substantial contact to begin as soon as possible. I am confident that progress in this area will be achieved quite quickly. To speed this along I have arranged that Nigel Wicks, the Second Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, will remain behind tomorrow for official discussions.

There are welcome signs of progress in other areas. The Foreign Secretary is at this very moment engaged in an historic meeting with the new Head of the KGB. The first sign of these changes was the announcement that Mrs Gordievskya and her family will soon be free to leave the Soviet Union. My wife and I were delighted to meet her this morning and I have asked the Foreign Secretary to press tonight for the necessary formalities to be completed as soon as humanly possible.

The Soviet Union and the republics face difficult choices, but the future is infinitely brighter than it looked barely two weeks ago when the world awakened to news of the coup. The people of the Soviet Union have chosen the path of freedom and chosen it decisively. That brings enormous responsibilities and opportunities. I feel privileged to come here today as the leader of one democratic country talking to the leaders of a vitally important country which is on its way to becoming the world’s newest democracy. It has been a day that has been most useful and one I believe that will have contributed to greater understanding of what is happening here.