Biography Chronology Home Search Speeches/Statements

1991 - Mr Major’s Comments on the Soviet Union

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the Soviet Union, made in an interview held on Tuesday 31st December 1991.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the situation in the former Soviet Union was potentially dangerous].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think firstly one has to consider what Gorbachev has achieved and I think he deserves fair consideration. He has achieved I think two things: he has set the Soviet Union on the road to democracy but it is a difficult and it is a rocky road and it will take some time. And secondly what he has achieved is effectively the end of that form of socialism not just in the Soviet Union but around the whole world. Throughout the world you see it, in Latin America as well, countries that did declare themselves socialist are now looking at free markets and a different way of life. That is a very remarkable achievement.

Against that, the future for the former Soviet Union is not going to be easy, there are going to be very great problems and it is essential that the West enters into the most comprehensive dialogue with each and every one of the new republics.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if Boris Yeltsin would be strong enough to bring about a stable new nation].

PRIME MINISTER:

Only time will tell that, but he is a very considerable man. I think no-one who saw either at close quarters or at a distance the way he reacted during the coup could have any doubt about that. He is a man of stature, he is a man who is very concerned to make sure that Russia in particular is a success in the future and we must hope and help him to achieve the stature that will keep the Commonwealth together and enable the better relations we have had in recent years to continue.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if Mr Yeltsin understood the economic tasks ahead].

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not sure that anyone in the republics understands the depths of the economic problems facing the Soviet Union. We have economic problems in the West as well, but they are frankly as nothing to the economic problems that are being faced now in the former Soviet Union and that will be there for a long time to come. No-one should imagine that suddenly putting a newer economic programme into place will be easy or that the results of it will be swift. There has been a massive loss of production, a massive decline in the old Soviet Union in recent years and it is highly likely that that will continue in the future.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about the financial contribution the West might need to make].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think we should help the republics, I believe that is in our interests as well as I think being the humane sort of action that one would expect from the West. They do face very great difficulties. Over the past few months, largely because I have been Chairman of the Group of Seven, I have been intimately involved with the measures we have taken to put in place to help the republics in the future. There are many billion pounds worth of packages of assistance that are actually now available.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about Mr Gorbachev comments of saying that more was needed].

PRIME MINISTER:

Mr Gorbachev has said it is not enough but Mr Gorbachev also has acknowledged the tremendous amount that has been done both publicly and privately, some of the private letters he has written are letters I will treasure on that particular account. I have also proposed in the last few days that Russia should become full members of the IMF and the World Bank, I think that is a very important move forward. And I think it is also fair to say that this country has led the way in the provision of food aid and feed aid to animals in order to meet the short-term problems that they have, particularly in St Petersburg and in Moscow.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked whether nuclear weapons posed a danger].

PRIME MINISTER:

I see no short-term risk there, but it is obviously a long term worry for a raft of reasons, not just who owns the nuclear weapons, but also whether some of the smaller republics might sell all or a part of their nuclear weapons armoury. And equally damaging, whether some of the nuclear scientific expertise that is in the former Soviet Union is actually purchased by Third World countries. We want to see no further proliferation of nuclear weapons and a reduction of the nuclear threshold that exists at present. So there are real worries there and that is why we are so keen to have a full and early dialogue with all the republics.