Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shouldn’t run for president next year because his government has lost touch with the people.
Putin’s inner circle, including many allies from his hometown of St. Petersburg, have sought to centralize power and even advocated dictatorship to protect their own interests, Gorbachev said today in an interview in Hannover, Germany.
“If you try to do everything in the country without taking the people into account, while imitating democracy, that will lead to a situation like in Africa where leaders sit and rule for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “The Petersburg project in Russia is over. It has run its course.”
Putin, 58, was president from 2000-08, when he turned the job over to his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, because of a ban on serving more than two consecutive terms. Both men have left open the possibility that they may run for the top job next year. The next president may serve until 2024 after the term was increased to six years.
Gorbachev, who turned 80 in March, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for helping to bring an end to the Cold War as president of the Soviet Union. The former Soviet Communist Party general secretary, who introduced a policy of “glasnost,” or openness, has criticized Putin for clamping down on media freedoms and political opposition.
“It would be better” if Putin chose not to seek a return to the Kremlin, Gorbachev said. “If I were in his place, I wouldn’t run for president.”
‘Whittling’ Away Democracy
Neighboring Belarus and Kazakhstan are ruled by long-term presidents whose careers began when they were part of the Soviet Union. Aleksandr Lukashenko, whose regime was called “the last dictatorship in Europe” by former U.S. President George W. Bush, has governed Belarus since 1994, and Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989.
Medvedev, a former law professor, has had a difficult presidency because he came to power with limited experience in government, Gorbachev said.
As president, Medvedev should have spoken out about policies that reduced democracy, such as the elimination of direct elections for regional governors and single-seat districts for the lower house of parliament, Gorbachev said. Both changes were implemented during Putin’s presidency.
“More than anything else, I’m worried about our electoral system, how they’re whittling it away,” he said. “It reminds me of when we were in school and there was the joke about someone balancing an uneven chair by slightly sawing down one leg and then another until there are no legs left.”
Russia will continue on its path toward democracy as a new generation replaces “the worst, most amoral, most cynical” generation trained by the Soviet system, Gorbachev said.
“Democracy needs democratization everywhere, the world over, and that’s difficult.”