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Archival Footage: Reagan campaign film, 1984

"... And I am proud to be an American
Where at least I know I'm free.
And I won't forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me.
And I gladly stand up next to you
And defend her still today.
'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land.
God bless the U.S.A.!"

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev

"Reagan was a staunch conservative. So for him, coming from that background, it was easier to make the move towards us and meet us halfway. Someone else might not have been able to do it. And the chance could have been lost."

Archival Footage: Tammy Wynette

"One more time!
Stand by your man!
Give him two arms to cling to.
And something warm to come to ..."


A concert on the White House lawn for an ex-Hollywood film star who was now president of the United States.

Archival Footage: Tammy Wynette

"Stand by your man ..."

Interview: Raymond "Doc" Frazier, Reagan supporter

"I knew that Ronald Reagan would bring this country back to the place it belonged, not make you ashamed you were an American, make you proud to be an American."

Interview: Florence Galing, Reagan supporter

"Ronald Reagan had the ability to convey whatever he was thinking of in terms that everybody understood. He just seemed to have a warmness about him that the people felt."

Archival Footage: Tammy Wynette

"... Stand by your man
You're making me nervous!
I love you! You're wonderful! Thank you!"

Archival Footage:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the B-1B!"

Narration: A strident anti-communist for most of his adult life, Ronald Reagan believed America lagged behind the Soviet Union in the arms race.

Archival Footage: Ronald Reagan, March 8, 1983

"I urge you to beware the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an Evil Empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil."

Narration: In the first years of Reagan's presidency, the Soviet Union's armed might appeared to be at its peak.

Interview: Caspar Weinberger, U.S. secretary of defense

"I had no doubt that the Soviet goal was world domination. Their military posture, their actions, their foreign policy actions, their aggressive behavior -- all of this contributed to that single conclusion."

Narration: The Soviet Union had been the first into space, but now a fear lurked in the hearts of top Soviet commanders -- fear of American technological superiority.

Interview: Leslie H. Gelb, New York Times journalist

"I had a meeting in Moscow with Marshal Ogarkov, the chief of staff of the Soviet Armed Forces. And he said, 'You know, all modern military capability is based on the computer. You have little kids in America 3 years old who know how to deal with computers! It takes years here to train Soviet recruits in the military to use them because they've never used them before. We're afraid of computers! If we start deploying computers, it's going to mean loss of political control for the Soviet leadership.'"

Narration: The aging Kremlin rulers were still willing to bear the crippling cost of being a superpower.

For the peoples of the Soviet Union, this meant a life where everyday items were in short supply.

Interview: Maria Kovshura, Moscow resident

"The standard of living was very low. We lived from pay day to pay day. We couldn't feed our children properly. The food that was available was so poor and the queues -- we used to spend three, four, five hours queuing for some lousy sausage!"

Narration: Brezhnev introduced a new face into the ranks of the Kremlin leadership -- Mikhail Gorbachev.

He was ordered to reform Soviet agriculture. The land that Stalin had brutally collectivized had never delivered plenty. Soviet farming was grindingly inefficient.

Interview: Roald Sagdeev, Soviet Space Research Institute

"When I became a director of large institute which was responsible for space launches, the first priority was to supply work force to collective farms during the harvest and only then to consider how we can save our next launch program."

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Politburo

"The system was breaking down. People were rejecting it because it didn't allow them to find satisfaction or to show any initiative in their work. It didn't allow people to speak out freely."

Narration: President Reagan was portrayed by a vocal minority of Americans and many Europeans as a war monger.

Archival Footage: "Spitting Image" -- British television

Nancy Reagan:

"Ronnie! You're not dressed up scary for Halloween!"

Ronald Reagan:

"Nance! If John F. Kennedy were alive today, he'd be younger than I am. I'm 75 years old and I've got my finger on the button! I just couldn't think of anything more scary than that! Trick or treat, fellers!"

Narration: The United States and the Soviet Union already possessed nuclear arsenals large enough to wipe each other out.

Both sides were constantly introducing more powerful and accurate missiles.

The renewed arms race and Reagan's anti-Soviet rhetoric revived the anti-nuclear movement in Western Europe.

Peace campaigners could not have imagined that the revulsion they felt for nuclear weapons also had an echo in the White House.

Interview: G.A. Keyworth II, scientific adviser to Reagan

"The president viewed the concept of deterrence between us and the Soviet Union as no different than holding a cocked gun at each other's heads. It was very clear to me from the beginning that he was, to say the least, extremely uncomfortable and, as I began to understand later on, he was fundamentally, morally, ethically opposed to the concept of mutual assured destruction and deterrence as we know it."

Narration: Advances in computers and laser technology promised to give Reagan -- and he believed the whole world -- a way out of the nuclear dilemma.

Work was going forward on a revolutionary new defense system.

Archival Footage: Ronald Reagan, March 23, 1983

"What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack? That we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies? I know this is a formidable technical task, one that may not be accomplished before the end of this century. I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace -- to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete."

Archival Footage: Dan Rather, March 24, 1983

"Good evening, this is the CBS Evening News -- Dan Rather reporting tonight from Washington. President Reagan today followed up last night's defense policy speech. He gave the go-ahead to develop a space-age system designed to neutralize an enemy nuclear missile attack. A system domestic critics today called 'too high-cost, too high-tech, too pie-in-the-sky.'"

Interview: Donald Regan, U.S. Treasury secretary

"Suppose we had been talking in terms of 1940 and somebody had said, 'We can take a little atom, an atom is something you can't see. But when we explode that little atom, we can destroy a whole city.' Would you have believed it? Would you have said, 'Let's try it?' Franklin Roosevelt said, 'Yes!' Franklin Roosevelt is in history as a hero. For what? Producing an offensive weapon of mass destruction. Ronald Reagan on the other hand came into office and said, 'Hey, we should have something that will stop this.'"

Narration: Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, "SDI" -- nicknamed "Star Wars" after the movie -- envisaged satellite- and ground-based weapons that could destroy Soviet missiles with darts and laser beams.

Interview: Roald Sagdeev, Soviet Space Research Institute

"It was a shock -- it's like all our hopes for beginning of the understanding how dangerous is militarization of space, just suddenly evaporated."

Interview: Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador to U.S.A.

"All the parity and stability created over many years through arms procurement and negotiations were disrupted. It meant that we too would need to spend huge amounts of money. It would begin a new phase in the arms race."

Archival Footage: Song

"Twinkle, twinkle, little star!
How I wonder what you are!
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky! ..."

Narration: Many American politicians and scientists campaigned against what they saw as Reagan's expensive folly.

Archival Narration:

"The heavens are for wonder, not for war!
Stop Star Wars! Stop weapons in space!"

Narration: Reagan's critics said that SDI was hugely expensive and would never work. They were appalled by the deep cuts in welfare programs that would be needed to pay for it.

Ronald Reagan soon discovered that his close ally, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was also critical of SDI.

She tried to persuade her friend not to abandon the nuclear deterrent for his beloved "Star Wars."

Interview: Robert "Bud" McFarlane, national security adviser

"Staff around the table afterwards said that Reagan had really gotten hand-bagged that day. And he called me into the Oval Office the next morning and he said, 'Bud, Margaret and we are just not getting along on this SDI issue. I wish you'd go to London and see if you can't at least lower the level of criticism publicly. We're going to have a tough time getting appropriations if this keeps up.' She gave me the same lecture she had given two weeks before and, seeing I was getting nowhere, I interjected during a pause, 'Prime Minister, President Reagan believes that there is at least $300 million a year that ought to be subcontracted to British companies that would support SDI.' And there was a long pause. She finally said, 'There may be something to this after all!'"

Narration: Leonid Brezhnev died in November 1982. The ailing KGB chief, Yuri Andropov, succeeded him. Andropov was frightened by SDI and Reagan's anti-Soviet speeches.

Convinced that the West was plotting war, Andropov ordered a worldwide alert. The KGB monitored every aspect of life in the West.

Interview: Oleg Gordievsky, KGB/British double agent

"The banking system was to be closely watched, as were the hospitals and road building programs. Were the banks attempting to convert their system to a war footing? Were hospitals preparing new beds and setting up blood banks for massive numbers of wounded?"

Narration: The Americans stepped up spy flights in sensitive areas along the Soviet Union's long borders.

Aircraft packed with electronic surveillance gear looked like civilian airliners and often flew close to passenger routes.

Interview: Col. Gennadi Osipovitch, Soviet Air Force pilot

"In this period '81, '82, and especially '83, how did it feel on the front line? Well, we were flying more often as there were more spy planes provoking us. We were in a constant state of tension."

Narration: On August 31st 1983, a South Korean airliner left Anchorage for Seoul. Unaccountably, Flight KAL 007, with 269 people on board, deviated into Soviet air space, more than 300 miles from its normal route.

Interview: Lt. Gen. Valentin Varennikov, chief of Soviet Ground Forces

"I received a phone call informing me that an unidentified plane had been spotted over Kamchatka, and that our attempts to contact it had been unsuccessful. I ensured that all the forces at our disposal were immediately put on alert. I said, 'Take all measures so that it is either forced to land on Sakhalin or, if it will not cooperate, shoot it down!'"

Interview: Col. Gennadi Osipovitch, Soviet Air Force pilot

"I could see two rows of windows which were lit up. I wondered if it was a civilian aircraft -- military cargo planes don't have such windows. I wondered what kind of plane it was but I had no time to think. I had a job to do. I started to signal to him in international code. I informed him that he had violated our airspace. He did not respond."

Interview: Lt. Gen. Valentin Varennikov, chief of Soviet Ground Forces

"Despite the signals from our planes including warning shots with tracers, the pilot failed to react, simply continuing on his course."

Interview: Col. Gennadi Osipovitch, Soviet Air Force pilot

"My orders were to destroy the intruder. I fulfilled my mission!"

Narration: The Korean airliner came down off Sakhalin Island, killing everyone on board.

Interview: George Shultz, U.S. secretary of state

"The United States reacts with revulsion to this attack. Loss of life appears to be heavy. We can see no excuse whatsoever for this appalling act."

Interview: Sergei Tarasenko, Soviet Foreign Ministry

"We came to the conclusion that we simply needed to be honest and admit, 'An unfortunate incident has occurred. There was a pilot error, bad weather, one thing led to another. It was not a pre-planned action -- no one wanted this. It was a tragic mistake.' We went to Kornienko, the deputy foreign minister, who agreed with us. But he was not able to convince the leadership. This was a question of prestige and the military don't like to admit mistakes."

Narration: A mood of crisis now gripped both East and West. Arms control talks were broken off. Soviet SS-20 rockets were now confronted by cruise and Pershing missiles deployed in Western Europe.

The Soviet leadership believed a nuclear attack by the West was imminent. A British agent inside the KGB sent warnings to London.

Interview: Oleg Gordievsky, KGB/British double agent

"When I told the British, they simply couldn't believe that the Soviet leadership was so stupid and narrow-minded as to believe in something so impossible. I said to them 'OK, I'll get you the documents!'"

Interview: Sir Charles Powell, British Foreign Office

"I think only a tiny handful of people knew the full details of how fearful they were. And we knew them, as is now public knowledge, through some extremely well-placed agents who were able to pass on the information that the Russians actually feared that the West was preparing for aggressive nuclear war against the Soviet Union."

Narration: Allied and domestic concern rose.

Archival Footage: Ronald Reagan

"Good evening. Please be seated."

Narration: Reagan tried to reassure Andropov.

Archival Footage: Ronald Reagan, January 16, 1984

"Just suppose with me for a moment that an Ivan and an Anya could find themselves, say, in a waiting room or sharing a shelter from the rain or a storm with a Jim and Sally and there was no language barrier to keep them from getting acquainted. Would they then debate the differences between their respective governments, or would they find themselves comparing notes about their children, what each other did for a living?"

Narration: Ronald Reagan, encouraged by his wife Nancy, consulted Suzanne Massie, a popular writer on Russia, to help him understand his Cold War adversary.

Interview: Suzanne Massie, author

"President Reagan was, of course, a people person. He loved people and he had a great instinct for people. I had been told by these fellows at the White House that, of course, if I were ever writing anything for the president, it had to be single ... double-spaced, 1 1/2 pages. Well, what can you get from that? President Reagan had never seen a Russian in the first three years. He couldn't go there. He was an actor: Actors like to absorb from feeling. I said, 'Mr. President, if you are re-elected, will this policy of small steps toward better relations be a continuing policy of your administration?' And Ronald Reagan had a pretty eagle eye when he wanted to and he looked down at me and he said, very definitely, he said, 'Yes! If they want peace, they can have it!'"

Narration: But to whom in the Kremlin could Reagan talk peace? In February 1984, Yuri Andropov died. His successor, Konstantin Chernenko, was too frail to start a dialogue. The West looked for some small sign of change.

Interview: Sir Charles Powell, aide to Margaret Thatcher

"We needed to try to search out the people who would guide the Soviet Union after Brezhnev, after Andropov. And looking around, there were about two or three possible people in terms of age and seniority. We dispatched invitations to all three and it was pure chance that Gorbachev was the one who accepted first. When Gorbachev came to the United Kingdom, he indeed brought his wife, and that was one of the first signs that we were dealing with someone quite different. Soviet leaders very, very rarely traveled with their wives anywhere."

Archival Footage: Margaret Thatcher

"I'm cautiously optimistic. I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together. We both believe in our own political systems. He firmly believes in his -- I firmly believe in mine. We're never going to change one another!"

Archival Footage: Margaret Thatcher

"We'd better hang on for a moment!"

Narration: March 1985 -- Konstantin Chernenko was dead. At his funeral, world leaders paid their respects to Mikhail Gorbachev and weighed up the new, younger man in charge of the Soviet Union.

Interview: George Shultz, U.S. secretary of state

"George Bush was there. As vice president, he was head of our delegation. When we walked out of that meeting, I said to George, I said, 'This is a very different Soviet leader than any we've seen before!'"

Narration: Russians too noticed the difference.

Interview: Nina Andreyeva, Leningrad lecturer

"Gorbachev was greeted with great enthusiasm! Everyone cheered in our institute. We were all pleased that such an energetic and educated person had become the new secretary general of our Communist Party."

Interview: Larisa Prokhorova, Moscow student

"We expected a miracle! We thought he was the Messiah who had come to introduce change."

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"The state of the Soviet Union and its society could be described very simply with a phrase used by people across the country, 'We can't go on living like this any longer!' That applied to everything. The economy was stagnating, there were shortages and the quality of goods was very poor."

Narration: Gorbachev took over a superpower sick with social breakdown, corruption in the Communist party -- and alcoholism.

To tackle these ills and to revive a decrepit economy, Gorbachev called for reconstruction, or 'perestroika,' and a new spirit of honesty -- 'glasnost.'

Interview: Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet Foreign Ministry

"I remember very clearly what Gorbachev said at that time. He said, 'There are two roads we can take. We can either tighten our belts very, very tightly and reduce consumption -- which the people will no longer tolerate -- or we can try to defuse international tension and overcome the disagreement between East and West. And so free up the gigantic sums that are spent on armaments in the Soviet Union.'"

Narration: In Washington, Reagan had to overcome objections from inside his own administration before he could meet the new man in the Kremlin.

Interview: Rozanne Ridgeway, U.S. assistant secretary of state

"I truly believe that Ronald Reagan would have had the foreign policy battle of his life, if not the broadly political battle of his life, starting within his own party and across this country, if he had tried to reach out to Gorbachev without a seconder for his point of view. It took Margaret Thatcher to talk first with Gorbachev, and then to publicly say, 'This is a man we can deal with!'"

Narration: Geneva, Switzerland -- November 1985.

The stage was set for the first superpower summit in six years.

Reagan too was keen to find out whether he could do business with Gorbachev.

Interview: Suzanne Massie, author

"I felt always that President Reagan was exactly the kind of man that Russians under normal circumstances would have really liked, the kind of American that they would really like. First of all, he's kind of an icon, you know, he's a cowboy, and they loved that! And the other was that he was very patriotic; you really had the sense that he was going to break into 'God Bless America' every time you saw him -- and it wasn't corny. He really believed it. And the Soviet Union, even some of the most hard and cynical Soviets, really respected patriotism."

Narration: Many people in the West wondered whether the 74-year-old Ronald Reagan was up to taking on the 54-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev.

Interview: Donald Regan, White House chief of staff

"The president's aide came in and said, 'Mr President, you know, do you wanna put your coat on?' And he said, 'Oh, I'm not sure.' And somebody said, 'Well, it's very cold outside. You should really wear a coat.' It was announced that the Soviet cavalcade was at the gates. And Reagan turned and, without putting on his overcoat, walked to the door. And there was much speculation as to whether this 'tired old man', president of the United States, could keep up with this 'wily, energetic, young, vigorous communist.' And to the amazement of the world, the old man goes down the steps -- lickety split -- meets and greets the Soviet leader who comes out all bundled up in an overcoat, hat, muffler, looking as though he were in Iceland rather than Geneva."

Narration: The summit agenda -- human rights, Afghanistan and arms control -- was daunting but the body language was encouraging.

The two leaders immediately held a private meeting.

Interview: George Shultz, U.S. secretary of state

"It was scheduled for 10 minutes. Twenty minutes went by, 30 minutes went by, 40 minutes went by and the White House guy who keeps the schedule going came around to me and he said, 'I should go in and let them know that they are going overtime.' And I said, 'If you do that, you should be fired! The name of the game, it shows they're getting along!'"

Narration: But were they really getting along?

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"I returned at the break to meet my colleagues. They asked, 'What's your impression?' I said I have met a caveman -- a dinosaur!"

Narration: The two leaders were divided above all by Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative -- Star Wars.

Archival Footage:

Journalist: "Are you getting along?"

Reagan: "You can see that, can't you?"

Interview: Rozanne Ridgeway, U.S. assistant secretary of state

"It was a shouting match -- not angry as much as two people, as I said, passionate in their ... in their views, with diametrically opposed positions. And this was the occasion in which the president said, 'But you must believe that this is so important for the safety of the world that I will give you the technology as we, as we develop it.' And Gorbachev laughed and said, 'Mr President, surely you understand I can't believe that -- since you won't even give us the technology for milking machines!'"

Narration: Mikhail Gorbachev left Geneva without agreement on his main objective: curbing the arms race. But the United States and the Soviet Union were talking again.

One year into the Gorbachev era and the Cold War continued. The Geneva call for a second summit was repeatedly postponed. Fears of nuclear war remained -- and even increased.

Interview: Capt. Igor Kurdin, Soviet Navy

"During that period, we had a lot of ideological training. We were constantly told about Reagan's speeches, so we called the U.S. imperialists the 'Evil Empire.' We started going out to sea twice as often. We kept a huge number of submarines in the sea all the time, as close as possible to the U.S. and British coasts. And the more submarines we sent out to sea, the more you sent out. This dangerous concentration and proximity of nuclear submarines could lead to unpredictable consequences."

Narration: A nuclear disaster did occur -- but not between the two superpowers. In April 1986, an explosion ripped apart Number 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine north of Kiev.

The disaster highlighted the incompetence of the Soviet system as volunteers started the lethal task of cleaning up the huge radioactive leak.

Interview: Larisa Prokhorova, Moscow student

"The firemen who got burnt while helping to extinguish the blaze were brought to a hospital near where I lived. At the time, people knew nothing about radiation and there was a lot of confusion about how it was transmitted. The firemen died very soon after and when they were buried, people were scared that the radiation would spread from their graves."

Narration: Chernobyl, its surroundings and large areas of Ukraine and Byelorussia were heavily contaminated and emptied of their population.

Interview: Anatoly Cherniayev, aide to Mikhail Gorbachev

"Gorbachev knew even before that catastrophe about the danger of nuclear weapons. That explosion showed that, even without war and without nuclear missiles, nuclear power could destroy humankind."

Narration: Reykjavik, Iceland -- the second Reagan-Gorbachev summit.

Gorbachev now decided to re-examine Reagan's first-ever arms control proposal -- known as the 'Zero Option.' Reagan had offered not to deploy cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe if the Soviets withdrew their SS-20 rockets.

Brezhnev had turned Reagan down flat; the new American missiles had been stationed in Europe.

Now Gorbachev wanted to cut a deal.

Interview: Anatoly Cherniayev, aide to Mikhail Gorbachev

"He understood that 'perestroika' and the internal changes were starting to slow down, that he had little time on his hands. He had to decide: Either he could free up resources from the arms race or he'd be forced to look for them elsewhere. I was with him when he decided to confront Reagan with the question: Did he or didn't he want an agreement? Did he or didn't he want disarmament?"

Narration: Ronald Reagan did want disarmament. But would he give up his Strategic Defense Initiative -- SDI?

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"I said, 'OK, let's not even leave a hundred missiles, let's abolish them completely and go for the zero option!' This came as a shock! Everyone was surprised."

Interview: Donald Regan, White House chief of staff

"Reagan hit the table and said, 'Well, why didn't you say so in the first place! That's exactly what I wanna do and if you wanna do away with all the weapons, I'll agree to do away with all the weapons!' 'All weapons? Of course, we'll do away with all weapons!' 'Good! That's great! Now, now we have an agreement!' 'Yes! But you must confine SDI to the laboratory!' 'No, I won't!' said Reagan. 'No way! SDI continues! I told you that! I am never going to give up SDI!'"

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"I think that my principal position was and remains the same. The nuclear arms race should never be taken into space. It was difficult enough to limit the nuclear arms race on Earth."

Interview: George Shultz, U.S. secretary of state

"Gorbachev pressed and pressed and, at one moment, President Reagan, who was very clear in his mind about this, wrote a little note and pushed it over at me. It said, 'George, am I right?' I read this note and I said 'Absolutely!' and passed it back."

Narration: The chance to make the most momentous agreement since the Cold War began -- the elimination by the United States and the Soviet Union of all but 100 nuclear weapons each -- was lost.

Interview: Donald Regan, White House chief of staff

"I have never felt so sad for a person in my life as I did for Ronald Reagan. He had been at it for two days. He had come, as he said to me, raising his fingers, 'Don, we were that close to an agreement and he wouldn't give in!'"

Narration: But what did the Soviets think?

Interview: Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet Foreign Ministry

"At first glance, I would say that Reykjavik almost failed because we were unable to sign an agreement. But later, as we went to our press conference, Gorbachev and I spoke in the car and we agreed that it was not a failure. And it was at that press conference that Gorbachev uttered a phrase which became famous, that it had been 'an intellectual breakthrough' in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union."

Narration: Ronald Reagan's friend, Margaret Thatcher, was deeply concerned.

Interview: Sir Charles Powell, aide to Margaret Thatcher

"We were frankly caught quite badly by surprise when we learned that discussions were encompassing the concept of abolishing nuclear weapons altogether. That would, of course, laid waste the doctrine of nuclear deterrence and we would have been left without the very center of our strategy. Luckily, from our point of view, the Reykjavik agreement never came to anything because the Russians pushed their luck too far."

Narration: Moscow -- another foreign aircraft breaches Soviet air space. Passersby watched amazed as a Cessna light aircraft landed in Red Square.

Its pilot was a young West German -- Matthias Rust.

Interview: Anatoly Cherniayev, Aide to Mikhail Gorbachev

"Rust himself was treated extremely humanely. Imagine if something like this had happened before Gorbachev's time! There would have been no dialogue. He would have simply been lined up against the wall and shot the next day!"

Narration: Gorbachev set Rust free, but used the incursion as an excuse to dismiss several members of the Soviet high command.

Media, the fax machine, the computer were opening up the U.S.S.R.

Gorbachev and the Politburo watched satellite television in their offices. After Olympic boycotts, the 1986 Goodwill Games were seen live on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Soviet television was changing. It risked a live debate with Margaret Thatcher.

Archival Footage: Live Soviet TV interview, March 31, 1987


"So don't you think that the concept of nuclear deterrence, in fact, invites the side that believes in it to use the nuclear weapons in the end, just to prove this threat from time to time?"

Margaret Thatcher:

"Isn't a policy of conventional weapons, with the terrible bombs raining down, with the missiles, with the aircraft, with the submarines, with the torpedoes, with the tanks, with chemical weapons -- isn't that based on the possibility of threat?"

Interview: Andrei Pavlov, student

"I felt very embarrassed for our journalists. It was so painful to watch. At first, I was a little hurt. Then I was roaring with laughter. It was on this occasion that she made so many fans."

Archival Footage: Margaret Thatcher

"And we're saying to anyone who dares to attack us, 'Do not do it, you couldn't win, the result would be devastating!' I think you're saying the same."

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"I have to say that Margaret Thatcher was one of the politicians with whom it was very important to maintain a dialogue because she was a very strong personality and a strong politician. And in spite of us constantly arguing with her at every meeting we had, we respected each other's position."

Narration: Gorbachev's policy of 'glasnost' brought pop culture out into the open.

Interview: Nina Andreyeva, Leningrad lecturer

"A new breed of young people was created by our intellectuals -- a breed that rejected all our Soviet past. This was moral degradation! Our youth was being turned into human robots!"

Narration: The Soviet people were being plunged into wrenching change.

Interview: Lt. Gen. Valentin Varennikov, chief of Soviet Ground Forces

"We became particularly worried by the end of 1987. We saw that the country was not going in the direction it should. The situation of the people was getting worse and worse. The situation of the armed forces was no better."

Narration: Gorbachev reacted to growing opposition by pressing ahead with plans to reform the Communist Party.

Archival Footage: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"All our initiatives -- the reforms, more democracy and more say to the workers councils. This is the only way forward. Only this can give you real power."

Interview: Andrei Pavlov, student

"The main achievement of Gorbachev's policies was that, in the space of a year or two, he made the fear disappear, as if by magic. People had lost their fear of speaking and acting freely."

Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"If I hadn't promoted the reforms, if I hadn't tried to let the people breathe freely, if I hadn't tried to open the door to glasnost and democracy, to stir the society, to get it thinking and acting, I would probably still be in my secretary-general's armchair today. I could have stayed there a lot longer since I am still quite young!"

Narration: Washington, D.C. -- Ronald Reagan still pursued his "Star Wars" vision. The Kremlin now believed that it would never happen and therefore should not delay agreement on arms reduction.

Gorbachev, in the United States for the first time, had come to sign an historic treaty. His visit, seen live on Soviet TV, enhanced his standing at home -- and abroad.

Interview: Raymond "Doc" Frazier, Reagan supporter

"All I'd ever seen of Soviet leaders was Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table and some old men in drab uniforms all looking like Mao Tse-tung, you know, had no personality and looked like they were zombies! But here comes Gorbachev: He's wearing a good, well-cut Brooks Brothers suit and tie; he even had on a white shirt! He was outgoing, he was meeting people, he was joking and he was getting along with people in Washington, D.C.!"

Archival Footage: Announcement by master of ceremonies

"Ladies and gentlemen. The president of the United States and the general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union!"

Narration: A Russian saying Reagan had learned from Suzanne Massie now seemed appropriate.

Interview: Suzanne Massie, author

"'The Russians like to talk in proverbs. It would be nice for you to know a few.' And I said, 'You're an actor -- you can learn them very quickly.' And I gave him this ... Mrs. Reagan was with us at the time, and she liked this one, and ... and I said, 'Here it is, and I'll...' And it was 'Doveryai, no proveryai.'"

Archival Footage:

Ronald Reagan:

"Mr. General Secretary. Though my pronunciation may give you difficulty, the maxim is: 'Doveryai, no proveryai! Trust but verify!'"


"You repeat that at every meeting!"

Interview: Rozanne Ridgeway, U.S. assistant secretary of state

"I know of no one else of a leadership stature in the United States in those days who would have moved forward as Reagan did, to engage Gorbachev, to engage the Western Alliance, to truly lead the Western Alliance, and to take us through what became, of course, a very constructive introductory period to the end of the Cold War."

Narration: Though far less comprehensive than what was mooted at Reykjavik, Reagan and Gorbachev signed an agreement abolishing an entire category of nuclear weapons.

In front of the world's cameras, the Americans destroyed their cruise and Pershing missiles.

The Soviets dismantled their SS-20s. In another milestone in reducing Cold War tension, inspection teams from both sides supervised the destruction.

In his last year as president, Ronald Reagan paid his first ever visit to the Kremlin.

What Mikhail Gorbachev and the journalists wanted to know was: What did Ronald Reagan think about the Soviet Union now?

Archival Footage: Reagan in Red Square


"Oh just fine!"

Jon Snow -- ITN:

"Do you still think you're in an Evil Empire, Mr. President?"



Interview: Mikhail Gorbachev, general secretary, Soviet Communist Party

"He said he wanted to take back his reference to the Soviet Union as the 'Evil Empire.' He found a good place to announce it -- right in the middle of the Kremlin. But, nevertheless, he said that he was doing it, not because he was wrong when he initially said it, but because by 1988 the Soviet Union had come a long way under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. It had become a different country."

Archival Footage: Ronald Reagan

"... We find ourselves standing like this!"

Narration: Together, the two leaders had seized their chance.


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