Mikhail Gorbachev - 'ashamed' of Vladimir Putin (photo:dpa)

Russia presidential election: Ex-Soviet leader Gorbachev’s anger reflects public feeling

The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has called on Vladimir Putin not to seek a third term as president. Mr Gorbachev joined the swell of protests over claims that Prime Minister Putin’s United Russia party unfairly won seats in the December 2011 parliamentary election. And in a public show of outrage he called for fresh elections and for Mr Putin to resign. None of this will carry much weight in Russia but, as Day 10, the final day of GIS’s Russia election mini series shows, Mr Gorbachev’s criticisms do reflect the anger felt by many.

MIKHAIL Gorbachev was the first and last president of the USSR. He was the architect of reforms which put an end to the Cold War, earning him everlasting gratitude in the West.

On the eve of the protest he issued a communique launching a withering personal attack on Mr Putin

But those reforms also put an end to the Soviet Union itself, a fact for which he is still being blamed by many Russians.

Reinvent himself

When Vladimir Putin rose to power as president of the Russian Federation, in 2000, Mr Gorbachev was largely positive.

He tried to reinvent himself as a social democrat, and even toyed with the idea of founding a new party. But inside Russia, that did not resonate.

As Mr Putin developed ever stronger authoritarian tendencies, Mr Gorbachev preferred to retain a low profile.

The wave of protests that followed in the wake of the allegedly falsified election results on December 4, 2011, caused the father of perestroika to suddenly emerge into the limelight with his strongest criticism of the Kremlin yet.

Mr Putin’s United Russia party won less than half the vote and lost 77 seats, a steep fall from its earlier two-thirds majority. This is seen by many as fatigue with the rule of Mr Putin who, if re-elected president in the March 4, 2012, presidential elections, could stay in power until 2024.

Anger felt by many

Opposition parties and international observers said the parliamentary vote was marred by vote-rigging, including alleged ballot box stuffing and false voter rolls.

The anger felt by many Russians brought them out on the streets to join a giant rally on Moscow’s Sakharov Avenue, on December 24, 2011. The rally was held, almost to the day, 20 years after Mr Gorbachev was forced to leave office following a coup. Mr Gorbachev was much in demand for interviews.

Although originally invited to speak, 80-year-old Mr Gorbachev was prevented by his doctors from actually appearing at the rally. Instead, on the eve of the protest he issued a communique launching a withering personal attack on Mr Putin. He said he was both ashamed and embarrassed at Prime Minister Putin’s comments about protesters when he branded them as chattering monkeys.

Scuppered his political career

And he called on Mr Putin not to seek a third term as president next year. ‘I would advise Vladimir Putin to leave now. He has had three terms: two as president and one as prime minister. Three terms – that is enough.’

He also had harsh words for Dmitry Medvedev, saying he thought the outgoing president’s feeble response to credible allegations of election fraud had probably scuppered his political career.

While statements like these will resonate well in Western media, at home Mr Gorbachev remains largely irrelevant.

That said, he does reflect the anger that is felt by many Russians about the way in which they have been treated. And that is what counts.

Mikhail Gorbachev

  • Age: 80 Born in Stavropol Krai in the Causcaus Mountains to a peasant Ukrainian-Russian family
  • Graduated from Moscow State University with a degree in law
  • While at university joined and became active in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union
  • General secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991
  • 1986: As ‘ruler’ of the USSR he introduced glasnost (openess), perestroika (restructuring). demokratizatsiya (deomracy) and uskoreniye (economic development)
  • Last head of state of Soviet Union to its dissolution in 1991
  • 1990 introduced and assumed position of president of the Soviet Union
  • 1990 Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
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