Mikhail Gorbachev honoured by Kremlin on 80th birthday

image captionMr Gorbachev is to receive the actual decoration later

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has been given Russia's highest award, the Order of St Andrew, to mark his 80th birthday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the award was for his "enormous work as head of state" when they met at a presidential residence outside Moscow.

Mr Gorbachev played a key role in dismantling the Iron Curtain.

But many Russians revile him for the economic meltdown and conflicts after the collapse of the USSR in 1991.

An FOM opinion poll released last week suggested that 52% believed he had done Russia more harm than good, while just 11% took a positive view of his actions.

Having largely kept out of domestic politics since he resigned as Soviet president on 25 December 1991, Mr Gorbachev criticised Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in an interview published on Wednesday.

He advised Mr Putin, seen by many as the most powerful man in Russia today, against returning to run for a third term as president next year.

And he warned about the dangers of an Arab-style social revolt.

'The same shepherds'

The Order of St Andrew, a pre-revolutionary award, was restored as the country's top honour in 1998.

Greeting Mr Gorbachev at his Gorki residence, President Medvedev said: "This is the proper recognition of your enormous work as head of state.

"You headed our country in a very difficult, dramatic period."

The decoration, which is to be presented at a future date, was a "symbol of the state's respect" for Mr Gorbachev's work, the Russian president added.

In the interview for weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty, Mr Gorbachev said: "Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] has already served two terms, and one more as prime minister.

"I would not run for president if I were in his place."

There is much speculation about whether Mr Putin will stand again in the 2012 election or back his protege, Mr Medvedev, for a second term.

Mr Gorbachev told the paper that he liked both men personally but "people... do not want to be a mass, a flock led for decades by the same shepherds".

Russia, he argued, must "definitely" draw lessons from the social revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East.

"How many times have they promised people that they will be loosening the screws?" he asked, in reference to the Russian authorities.

While Russia's small but vociferous opposition has been buoyed by condemnation abroad of the latest Khodorkovsky trial, there is no sign of any mass protest movement against the Kremlin.

Birthday party

image captionMr Gorbachev resigned days before the USSR fell apart

Mr Putin, who once described the collapse of the USSR as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century", congratulated Mr Gorbachev on his birthday with a telegram.

He praised him as "one of the great statesmen of modern times, who have made a significant impact on the course of world history".

Mr Gorbachev was due to celebrate his birthday with family and friends in Moscow on Wednesday.

On 30 March, he plans to attend a gala concert in London's Royal Albert Hall to help raise money for treating patients with blood cancer, the disease which killed his wife Raisa in 1999.

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