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 Comments on the Soviet Union – 25 September 1991

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the Soviet Union, made in an interview in London on Wednesday 25th September 1991.


[Mr Major was asked who he thought would be the strongest leader to come through in the Soviet Union].


When I went to the Soviet Union I had the opportunity of meeting President Gorbachev, President Yeltsin and a large number of other Soviet leaders. Since then back in London I have had the opportunity of discussions with Mr Lushkev, Mr Sobchek and with a number of other leaders as well. So I have had the opportunity of seeing most of the significant Soviet leaders within the last three weeks or so, and it has been a series of very worthwhile meetings.

For the immediate future I think that Mr Gorbachev and Mr Yeltsin will work together, they have different though complementary roles, they recognise that it is necessary internally for them to work together and I believe they recognise that it is necessary externally for them to work together for the time being.

What will happen in the longer term future no-one can say. I believe there is no doubt that greater authority and influence is moving to the republics than was previously the case, but there is a role in the centre and we must wait and see how the Russian political system settles down, it may well be a form of confederation with both a continuing role for the President of the Union and the President of the republics.


[Mr Major was asked which policies the G7 should have towards the Soviet Union].


Let me put the answer to that question in a proper context. What has happened in the Soviet Union in the last few months is of historic importance, we have seen the ending of a communist state, the end of communism and the rapid development of a country that wants to move towards the sort of market system that we are familiar with in the West and that you are familiar with in Japan. They are absolutely momentous changes and nobody should understate that in any way.

Because they are so important economically, politically and socially I believe the G7 countries should assist the Soviet Union to go down the process of reform, we cannot do it for them. Any help that we provide to the Soviet Union will be peripheral to the help that they must themselves provide in order to continue this reform path. But providing they have a proper reform programme and providing they make their own contribution, and I think by that we must look to see they have a firm commitment to reduce their defence expenditure, then I think it is in everyone’s interest, the interest of people in the Soviet Union and the interest of people in the rest of the world to help them carry that reform programme forward and that is what we would wish to do.

In the short term this winter that may mean assisting with food, with the distribution of food, with all sorts of mechanistic assistance, with the development of schemes such as the British Know How scheme so that we can encourage collaboration between our companies, joint enterprises, and also so that we can give them the advice and experience we have gathered from years in how to run a successful mixed economy.

I know that Japan has very significant joint collaborative schemes in the Soviet Union and I believe that is the right way forward and I think you will find many other countries going precisely down that path.


[Mr Major was asked if the northern territory issue had been discussed].


There is very close coordination amongst the G7 countries. For example, I liaised with Prime Minister Kaifu both before and after my visit to the Soviet Union and we exchange joint experiences where we think that would be helpful. I did raise the question of the northern islands with President Gorbachev, I cannot say I got an answer that encouraged me to believe there was going to be swift movement, I did make it clear to him that I thought movement on the northern islands would be very helpful for their relationship with Japan and for their wider relationships, but President Gorbachev made no commitments on our discussion.