Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the end of the Soviet Union, says Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shouldn’t seek a third term as Russian president as the country struggles to develop democratic institutions.
Members of Putin’s inner circle, many from his hometown of St. Petersburg, have sought to centralize power to protect their own interests, Gorbachev said yesterday in an interview. Some have even advocated dictatorship, he said in Hannover, Germany, where he attended a forum on improving German-Russian relations.
“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,” Gorbachev 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 Dmitry Medvedev, his handpicked successor, 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.
Putin was supported by 23 percent of those surveyed June 23-27 by the Moscow-based Levada Center, compared with 18 percent for Medvedev. Twenty-two percent were undecided, and 23 percent said either they wouldn’t vote or they weren’t sure whether they would vote. The poll of 1,600 people had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
‘I Wouldn’t Run’
Gorbachev, who turned 80 in March, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for helping end 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.”
The rulers of Belarus and Kazakhstan, two former Soviet republics that are Russia’s partners in a customs union, haven’t heeded similar advice. Aleksandr Lukashenko, leader of what former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration called “the last dictatorship in Europe,” has governed Belarus since 1994, and Nursultan Nazarbayev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1989.
Medvedev, a one-time law professor, has had a difficult presidency because he came to power with limited experience in government, Gorbachev said.
‘Whittling’ Away Democracy
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.”