In a Russian video interview published on Monday (1 February), former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev harshly criticises President Vladimir Putin, and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
According to the last leader of the Soviet Union, Putin rules “manually” with the help of rogue factions who entrench corruption. Gorbachev opines that if elections were free, Russia would have much more opposition. The dominance of the security forces is unacceptable, said the last Communist head of state.
Gorbachev is highly regarded in the West for having facilitated the peaceful disbanding of the Soviet empire. But he is much less popular in his own country. This is the first time that he has made such strong coments about Russia’s curent leadership.
In the beginning of the seven and a half-minute interview, Gorbachev says Putin rules through personal friends, with “friends from school, with people with whom he played football on the same street”.
“For me, this style of ‘personal relations’ is unacceptable”, he tells Lyudmila Telen, Editor-in-Chief of the Radio Svoboda website.
She challenges him by saying: “That’s why they didn’t betray him. You were betrayed.”
Gorbachev replies that Putin betrayed the people, by getting hold of public property, through the pretense of reform, just to entrench corruption. He adds that worldwide, there was a return to authoritarian regimes and dictatorships.
“Does this apply to Russia?” the journalist asked.
“It does,” Gorbachev replies. He further says that deficient Russian institutions provide for the supremacy of arbitrariness and abuse.
“Our [leaders] like to rule manually,” he said.
Asked why, Gorbachev states: “Because they were not elected,” he comments, explaining that after the 1990, Russian elections became less free than they were in Soviet times. In the 1996 presidential elections, Gorbachev says that the one who won was Gennady Zyuganov [officially Boris Yeltsin won against the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov].
“He [Zyuganov] knew he had won the elections, and was scared,” Gorbachev said.
The journalist challenged Gorbachev by telling him that Putin would have won the elections he took part in anyway.
Gorbachev replied that if the elections had been fair, Russia would have had a much stronger opposition, and the situation in the country would have been completely different and much healthier.
The journalist commented that Russia has a tendency toward authoritarism, and asked Gorbachev how he avoided it during his time.
Gorbachev replied that this depended on the personality of the person at the helm of the country, and in their experience in running it.
“They [Putin and Medvedev] have a different experience, the experience of manual management. And rule by fear”. He quoted Victor Cherkesov, a Russian security official, who said that the present system was of a Chekist type. [CheKa, from “Extraordinary Committees” is the historic predecessor of KGB, founded by Lenin.]
“I almost got there. After University I was invited to join,” Gorbachev said, referring to the Soviet Union’s KGB.
“But you didn’t join,” the journalists points out.
Gorbachev avoids answering directly and says: “The issue is not about this. The supremacy of security structures, their excessive prerogatives in deciding political issues, and in interfering in peoples’ lives, is unacceptable, is over the top.” He argued that what the country needed most was a new electoral system, which would give people a real right to choose.
The journalist challenged Gorbachev, by saying that this would mean that at the next presidential elections, the winner would be Putin, and at the next, it would be Medvedev.
“I didn’t say that,” Gorbachev replied, and repeated that he rejects a system in which two people decide everything. “I am ashamed for them. They act in an indecent way. As if there was no society, as there was no constitution, no election system. They all decide between them. A duumvirate [from triumvirate]. But where are we, 140 million? I don’t like that. But they believe they are the saviors of the motherland.”