AS leaders of two of the world’s greatest super powers, their time was precious.

So it was perhaps little surprise that when a technological hitch meant a scheduled telephone conversation between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and US counterpart Bill Clinton had to be abandoned in February 1994, the ailing older statesman was none too pleased – and let the American know about it.

Private internal correspondence between Downing Street officials, released by the National Archives, reveal that a fuming Mr Yeltsin was left on hold for 90 minutes while White House staff sought desperately to locate President Clinton and connect the pair for bilateral talks.

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The handwritten note on Downing Street headed paper between John Major’s private secretaries, Alex Allan and Roderic Lyne, said: “On a trivial level, did you hear about the foul-up on the US end in getting Clinton on the phone to Yeltsin?

“Apparently the Russians misunderstood all the preliminary soundings the US operations room do, and put Yeltsin on the line.

“Panic at the US end, no sign of Clinton. Yeltsin kept waiting for one-and-a-half hours before he gave up.

“V pissed off. Hence refusal to take call from Clinton for next couple of days.”

The note, signed by Mr Allan, asked the PM to be apprised of the incident.

A subsequent annotation added: “This explains a comment Clinton made at the start of the PM’s call. They had technical problems with us too, and Clinton said ‘If we have communication problems with the Brits too then perhaps the Russians will believe us’.”

The document was included in a slew of confidential Whitehall correspondence relating to Mr Major’s visit to Russia at the time.

A briefing note on some of the key players of Russian politics, written by Downing Street aide Tony Bishop upon Mr Major’s return to the UK, remarked that Mr Yeltsin “had lost quite a lot of weight in the body since I last saw him”, though he was regarded as “still rather puffy around the neck and jaw”.

Mr Yeltsin was said to have “stayed off the vodka” during the PM’s visit, “contenting himself with some large gulps of wine”.

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It added: “He (Yeltsin) did seem to have lost his former bounce. Although his relations with the PM were warm at all times, indeed better and more trusting than I had ever seen them, he now seemed to be operating on a fairly flat battery, with lowered vitality.”

The document claimed that Mr Yeltsin had told Mr Major’s wife, Norma, that the only free time he had during the week “started on a Sunday afternoon”.

Mr Yeltsin, Russian president until the end of 1999, died following a heart attack in April 2007.

The papers also reveal confidential minutes from a Government away day at John Major’s weekend residence in the autumn of 1994 lay bare the Conservatives’ approach to tackling the emergence of Tony Blair.

Members of the Prime Minister’s policy unit reconvened at Chequers to assess their fortunes, with Mr Major staring down the barrel of an uncertain faring at the polls following increased support for Labour under its new leader.

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According to a summary of the meeting, released by the National Archives, Mr Major was told the Government “should stay on the ground it had taken and not be swayed off it by the ‘Blair factor’.”

The economy was described as being in a better place than for a generation, but that the Government’s own message was “unhelpful”. The note added: “It was no use telling people that they were stupid not to have noticed the recovery when the feelgood factor was absent.”

The summit suggested deploying aggressive fact-checking of Opposition claims, as well as an “urgent study” into allegations Mr Blair plagiarised speeches by president Clinton.

A policy idea where Neighbourhood Watch volunteers help the elderly – dubbed Guard a Granny – was also floated. Mr Major was also urged to recapture his “pre-election television image” by being seen both in “remote statesman mode”, as well as being interviewed “more informally dressed”.

Feedback from a focus group of disaffected Conservative voters, shared at the summit, found that “most” would like to return to the party at a general election, but “not perhaps yet enough” to secure victory.

The 1997 vote saw Labour cruise to one of the most crushing general election landslides ever, prompting Mr Major’s resignation.