Mikhail Gorbachev denounces Putin's 'attack on rights'


Mikhail Gorbachev tells the BBC's Steve Rosenberg that Mr Putin's entourage is full of "corrupt officials"

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Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has denounced laws passed in Russia as an "attack on the rights of citizens".

In an interview with the BBC he called on President Vladimir Putin "not to be afraid of his own people".

Mr Gorbachev also criticised Mr Putin's inner circle, saying it was full of "thieves and corrupt officials".

The laws include fines for organising unsanctioned protests, stiffer libel penalties, a wider definition of treason and restrictions on websites.

In January, Human Rights Watch accused President Putin of unleashing "the worst political crackdown in Russia's post-Soviet history" since returning to the Kremlin for a third term in May 2012.

The group also said he had overseen "the swift reversal of former President Dmitry Medvedev's few, timid advances on political freedoms".

A number of opposition leaders have been arrested since anti-government protests began to be staged in Moscow and other big cities following disputed parliamentary elections in December 2011.

'Soured' relations

Mr Gorbachev, who is 82 and in poor health, is still determined to speak his mind about what is happening in his country.

He said he was "astonished" by the number of controversial laws passed in Russia since Mr Putin's return to the presidency.

Start Quote

If things don't change, Russia will continue to drift like a piece of ice in the Arctic Ocean”

End Quote Mikhail Gorbachev Former Soviet leader

"The common thread running through all of them is an attack on the rights of citizens. For goodness sake, you shouldn't be afraid of your own people," he told the BBC.

"What people want and expect their president to do is to restore an open, direct dialogue with them. He shouldn't take offence at this.

"He should concentrate on trying to drag Russia out of the difficult situation that she is in."

Mr Gorbachev said he had supported Mr Putin during his first term in office, but relations had since "soured".

The two men rarely speak and have had no direct meetings for more than a year.

"I've criticised him a lot in public. He sometimes loses his temper. Once he said that 'Gorbachev's tongue should be cut short'.

"I get the feeling he's very tense and worried. Not everything is going well. I think he should change his style and make adjustments to the regime."

Despite the criticism, Mr Gorbachev believes Mr Putin's entourage is effective at keeping him in power and reducing the risk of a coup or rebellion.

"Putin's entourage is the right one for him. He selected it and it works the way he wants it to," he said.

"Even the inner circle, those by his side, there are so many thieves and corrupt officials there. If things don't change, Russia will continue to drift like a piece of ice in the Arctic Ocean."

Stalin comparison

Mr Gorbachev, however, is not immune from criticism.

Many Russians blame him for the collapse of the Soviet regime as a superpower.

But more than 20 years after the fall of the USSR, Mr Gorbachev refuses to take the blame.

"I'm often accused of of giving away Central and Eastern Europe. But who did I give it to? I gave Poland, for example, back to the Poles. Who else does it belong to?"

Last year, an opinion poll posed the question: Under whose rule did Russia experience mostly positive development.

Vladimir Putin came top, Mikhail Gorbachev came bottom, below Joseph Stalin.

Mr Gorbachev, though, feels that attitudes are changing.

"First of all, my new book is a total sell-out; then there are all the letters I'm getting from people. They write: 'Why are we searching for heroes when we have Gorbachev who opened up so many new opportunities for us and stood firm, no matter how much pressure he came under.'

"I have a feeling that the young generation today, which is cultured and educated, is changing the whole picture."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    I feel so sorry for the Russians. In the 90s there must have been so much optomism, the end of dictatorship, supression, gulags and all other horrors of the USSR

    For a man like Putin to take power and suck all the hope from an entire people is heartbreaking. His return to a pre-Gorbachev one party police state where oponents are disposed of is sad even to an outsider

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    One thing for sure, never trust the people.

    People don't know what they want, today this and tomorrow that.

    Just keep the outside out and lock up the foreign worshippers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Such occurrences are by no means unique to Tsarist Russia. One can also point to Gen. Dyer's massacre of peaceful Sikhs at Amritsar in 1919, for instance- but does that make the UK a screwed-up society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    #149 DB

    --I trust you are not becoming nationalistic ?

    --my observations are international.

    ´I am free of all prejudices. I hate everyone equally.´

    W. C. Fields.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    #147 DB

    "Was Russian society under the Tsars all that screwed up? Probably not all that much more than that of most European countries"

    ´On January 22, 1905, approximately 200,000 workers and their families followed... to take their grievances straight to the czar at the Winter Palace.

    palace guards opened fire without provocation. About 300 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded.`

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    #146 DB

    -- I still maintain a ´swallow does not make a Summer´ --neither in Russia or elsewhere --

    -- your point may be worthy of a doctor thesis --but Russia has remained Russia.

    -- Syria appears to remain the same murderous Syria ( for example)

    --societies seldom change unless they are forcibly changed -- take Germany as an unusual positive example of that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Was Russian society under the Tsars all that screwed up? Probably not all that much more than that of most European countries. Key difference is that while European societies by and large did improve, Russia's deteriorated under the Bolsheviks, despite their claim to the contrary.
    As for paying taxes, NOBODY likes to do so- I don't! Greeks get away with it because of a lack of proper govt control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Kerensky was by no means the only lawyer fighting for social justice, though he is the best-known due to his career after the February Revolution. Fact remains that he and his colleagues did score some success- see his biography by Richard Abraham for instance. This proves that there was a chance of justice in the Tsar's courts, something unlikely under the Bolsheviks and now under Putin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    #143 DB

    -You miss my original point-

    "-- By that I mean (to put it simply) -- a ´screwed up´ society (usually) remains so."

    -- The history of Russia appears to also fall into that category as do many societies. with ´continuity´.

    -For example the USA having a large prison population. the UK with Feudal traditions and Greeks not paying taxes.

    --not meant as an insult --only an observation

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    #142 DB

    --the exception does not make the rule within societies.

    "When Nicholas II became czar in 1894, the Russian people were poised for conflict. With the majority of Russians still living in poverty with no legal way to improve their circumstances,"


  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    @141 I am aware of the fact that Stalin still has his fans in Russia and elsewhere in the FSU. Adolf has his fans in Germany, Austria and other countries, Mao has his fans in China- but what does that prove, other than that there are a lot of lunatics around to whom the end- society as they believe it should be- justifies all means? It certainly doesn't prove Stalin, Adolf and Mao were right!

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    @139 Read Solzhenitzyn's "Gulag Archipelago". He describes the differences in prison systems under the Tsar and under the Bolsheviks- guess which was better. As a lawyer Kerensky regularly got acquittals in Tsarist courts, something almost impossible under the Bolsheviks. So although the Tsars were autocrats, we can safely say that the law actually meant something in Tsarist society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    The attitudes of most Russians need to change before a real shift to democracy will take place. And they are changing already, just look at the last year's protests. Unfortunately, the words "democracy" and "human rights" are still considered dirty by most people there as a result of mismanagement during Yeltsin years. Young people want to live like the West but it won't happen until after Putin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    #137 DB

    -- Russian Communism -- to be more exact ?

    Was the society different under the Czar ?

    -- By that I mean (to put it simply) -- a ´screwed up´ society (usually) remains so.

    -- take some (all) of the Arab Spring revolution as examples -- the terror with another name --smells as sweet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    The attitudes of russian people need to change in order for real change to take place in Russia. I think they are changing already, just look at the last year's protests. Unfortunately, "democracy" and "human rights are still dirty words

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    @134 Stalin and his oppression? Oppression started from day 1 under Lenin! Surely you have not forgotten the Red Terror of 1918, War Communism, the bloody crushing of the Kronshtadt and Tambov rebellions of 1921, the first Gulag camps such as Solovetski, the mass executions by the Cheka and more events which took place when Lenin was in full command? Communism was evil from the start!

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    #135 Oleg

    --If Chavez could use his oil wealth to help his poor --why can´t Putin do more --with much more Russian wealth ?

    -- somehow your argument in defense of Putin --rings hollow and more based on wishful thinking ..than daily Russian reality ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    It appears unfettered personal freedom is a new religious dogma nowadays. Forget about responsibility, decency, morality. Unfettered personal freedom backed with money trumps it all. This kind of perverse freedom Putin is trying to fight back. He wants Russia to live freely by the laws that make sense for the majority of its citizens, as opposed to just a few rich ones.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    #129 BB

    --basically I agree -- but I tend to put the blame on Communisms´ failure -- rather Stalin and his oppression-- much more than Gorbachev.

    The Robber Barons have again free reign over the world-- with nothing to stop.

    Much has been forgotten of the hope Communism initially (and later) brought to the destitute of the world.



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