April 8, 2013 / 2:26 PM / 5 years ago

Gorbachev says "exceptional" Thatcher helped end Cold War

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Margaret Thatcher was “a great politician and an exceptional person” who helped end the Cold War, said Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union.

Thatcher, Britain’s first woman prime minister, died of a stroke on Monday.

“Thatcher was a politician whose word carried great weight,” Gorbachev, who sought to reform the Soviet Union and improved its ties with the West but failed to avert the collapse of the nuclear-armed superpower, said on his website.

“Our first meeting in 1984 marked the beginning of a relationship that was at times difficult, not always smooth, but was treated seriously and responsibly by both sides,” Gorbachev, 82, said.

After that meeting, months before Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as Soviet leader following his death, Thatcher said of Gorbachev: “We can do business together”.

Thatcher, an enemy of communism, said at the time that she and Gorbachev each firmly believed in their respective nation’s political system and were never going to change one another.

But Gorbachev said on Monday that his relationship with Thatcher helped bring change and tear down the Iron Curtain.

“We gradually developed personal relations that became increasingly friendly,” he said. “In the end, we were able to achieve mutual understanding, and this contributed to a change in the atmosphere between our country and the West and to the end of the Cold War.”

“Margaret Thatcher was a great politician and an exceptional person. She will be remain in our memories and in history,” said Gorbachev, whose resignation as president December 1991 marked the end of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev’s reputation may be as mixed as Thatcher‘s, if not more so. He is reviled by many Russians who blame him for the Soviet collapse, but some see his efforts to reform the country and ease oppression as heroic and he a well respected figure outside his homeland.

Reporting by Steve Gutterman and Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Jon Boyle

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