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 13.

    When the Communist Party organised a coup against him and he had to be rescued by Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev still tried to rehabilitate the Party instead of recognising that there was no going back. This is why he is reviled in Russia. Secondly, Russia has no democratic tradition. Russian people look for strong leadership and avoid taking initiative or responsibility.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Putin's quite a short sort of smallish man isn't he? I think that could possibly explain quite a lot.

    Love Gorby.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Gorbachev is right now and he was right when he oversaw the breakup of the USSR and its Warsaw Pact satellites. To be ranked at the bottom of some silly Russian poll is an honour I think. Gorbachev's reputation will only be enhanced with time. The West (as well as Eastern Europe and indeed the USSR) was lucky he was in charge at that critical juncture in history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Thieves and corrupt officials at the heart of Russian government? Putin attacking the rights of Russian citizens?

    Nothing in this article is news, Russia is a border-line banana republic, and will remain one until it learns what democracy actually is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    @2 Wrong! Mikhail Sergeievich inherited an impossible situation. Blame Lenin, Stalin, Brezhnev & Chernenko for the SU's inevitable collapse. As for Papa (Ras)Putin's approval ratings, it's hardly susprising that they are so high given that dissent is VERBOTEN and that he probably makes those ratings up himself, just as other dictators did and still do. Rossiya bez Putina!- Russia without Putin!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Do you want freedom or do you want security?

    Ok, now I have complete control of the media and secret services so let me ask you that again.
    Ok, now I have removed all those who gave the wrong answer so let me ask you that again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    I find it astonishing that Putin has the time to continue building his huge personal wealth.....when maybe that time should be dedicated to his people. I mean it must take a lot of time to make that much money surely.....or maybe not !

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    We'll have the Russian keyboard warriors paid by the state on here soon.

    Gorbachev is still accused of destroying the USSR, something Putin wants to see return.

    Haven't they banned gay rights marches recently?

    You only have to look at Russia's allies like Syria & Iran to see what they're about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    How could you expect that the former KGB officer Putin, would work against his own believes? He may have lost war, but he is so far winning battle. It is only matter of time, when we will see all of them in one camp China, Russia and North Korea...

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Gorbachev was one of the best things to happen to Russia if not the world. Problem is most humans are uneducated and not very bright – they even still believe in fairy tales…

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Mikhail Gorbachev helped end the Cold War and paved a way for new possibilities for Russia and the world. Predicatably, humans yet again did not grasp this opportunity and Russia now has a new dictator in all but name. The Russian people, disheartened by the lack of progress and their nations loss of Superpower status now seem to blame MG for their woes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Gorbachev is the last person who have the moral right to talk about Russia or Putin. At the time when Putin enjoys the ratings any US president can only dream of, Mr, Gorbachev is a synonym of a looser, traitor and political garbage.

    So let this old pitiful man die in shame far from Russia and despised by Russia that he betrayed .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Gorbachev certainly made his share of mistakes, but blaming him for the fall of the SU is unfair. Yeltsin, Kravchuk and Sushkevich were the ones who blew it up.
    The Russian people spoke and chose first Yeltsin, then Putin. Perhaps some day they will realize what they have lost by electing them instead of Mikhail Sergeievich. Neither was fit to stand in his shadow.


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