Bernard Ingham: Trump should learn from Thatcher and face Putin

AS international tension rises alarmingly, I recall Mikhail Gorbachev's first encounter with Margaret Thatcher just before Christmas in 1984. She told me what she was going to say to him and I saw her do so at lunch.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump meeting at the G20.

Roughly speaking, it went like this “Welcome to the UK and Chequers. 
I want our relations to get off to a good start. I want there to be no misunderstanding between us. I hate Communism. It brings neither freedom, justice nor prosperity to the people. But if you Russians must have it, you are entitled to have it secure within your own borders.”

From that frank moment Mr Gorbachev seemed to recognise that Russia, whether Communist or not, was secure. The West did not covet an acre of its vast empire.

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That, of course, ignored the formerly independent countries of Central and Eastern Europe but Mrs Thatcher had already proved her commitment to self-determination over the Falklands. Their future was in their hands.

All this is why I believe that today we need a frank face-to-face meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to convince the Russian dictator that the West is content to live and let live, while deploring the annexation of the Crimea.

I suggest Trump rather than Theresa May who, though she may be no Thatcher, has earned a reputation for integrity. Trump is no Thatcher, either. But he generally has the right ideas, if precious little control over his tongue and his tweets.

Relations between the West and Russia are now so dire – as our Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson has confirmed with his list of Kremlin military probings – that they require a heart-to-heart between the two leaders.

Whatever anyone may say about Trump, he – like his presidential predecessors – is not expansionist. Of course, America is concerned about the security of its own backyard – in its case the Caribbean – but, unlike Putin, it seeks no one’s territory.

I am reinforced about the need for the two leaders to come together by the preaching of Bishop Michael Curry at the Royal wedding. He reminded me, leaving aside his humour, of the dour fire and brimstone preachers of my non-conformist childhood in Hebden Bridge. But he had a serious message: if only
we could harness love as we have harnessed fire, the world would be a different place.

I don’t expect Trump to smother Putin with the love of his fellow man. After the Skripals’ poisoning in Salisbury, we are entitled to doubt whether that would move Putin one inch.

But, after repeating Mrs Thatcher’s assurance about the security of
Russia’s borders, he could appeal to Putin’s common sense. No one wins a nuclear war. So, he might say, let’s
talk about the mutual advantage of learning to live together without the horrendous cost of maintaining huge defensive forces.

After all, the capitalist system can deliver the wherewithal better than yours.

If Putin has only a smidgin of concern for his people – of whom 20 per cent
live below the poverty line – he should be able to see how he could transform his image by developing a new, less confrontational and less expensive East-West relationship to the benefit of ordinary Russians.

It may be that the Russians like the smack of firm government, but they also like money in their pockets. They might come to admire a man who had the strength to reach an accommodation with the West that improved their condition.

The plain fact is that the world has enough troubles without an East-West confrontation. It is beset by terrorism, the Shia-Sunni schism and its proxy war in the Yemen, anti-Semitism, racial tension, President Assad’s steady wrecking of Syria (with Russian support), the Turkish-Kurd fracas, China’s unsettling influence in the Far East and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and his on-off-and-possibly-on-again meeting with Trump.

This is not to mention Putin’s fifth column in Britain – the Marxist doctrine of Jeremy Corbyn and his gang. But Corbyn is already something of a busted flush. People don’t vote for poverty. Nor do they vote to lose their national identity as Eurofederalists require.

After the Italian election, EU
reform is painfully on the cards and independent European nations co-operating together instead of being forced into a so-called federal “union”, 
or straitjacket, would be a Western strength not a weakness.

If, currently we doubt the power of Bishop Curry’s love, let us not doubt the appeal of self-advantage behind secure borders. Go on, President Trump, prove you are not just noisy, but a salesman of international detente.