Putin Spokesman Rebuffs Gorbachev Call for Premier to Quit Power

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s spokesman dismissed a call by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for Putin to pull out of March presidential elections.

“The former leader of a vast nation, who presided over its collapse, is calling on a person to step down who managed to save Russia from the same fate,” Dmitry Peskov told state television Rossiya late yesterday.

Gorbachev, 80, on Dec. 24 said Putin, 59, had been in power for too long after two terms as president and one as prime minister. “There shouldn’t be a monopoly of power, we don’t need any czars,” he told Ekho Moskvy radio.

Putin announced in September that he would seek to return to the Kremlin in March 4 presidential elections, pushing aside his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev. He is confronting the biggest demonstrations of his 12 years in power over alleged election fraud in Dec. 4 parliamentary polls.

At least 30,000 people thronged Sakharov Prospect, a wide avenue in Moscow named after Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov, on Dec. 24, police said. The event organizers said as many as 120,000 people attended the rally, with protests also held in other cities. On Dec. 10, tens of thousands of Russians rallied across the country, including at least 25,000 in Moscow, according to police.

Medvedev, 46, replaced Putin in the Kremlin for four years because of a constitutional ban on three consecutive terms. Two more six-year terms would give Putin 24 years at the helm, making him the longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin.

Gorbachev 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.

Leonid Brezhnev, who led the Soviet Union from 1964 until his death in 1982, a period later characterized as an era of stagnation that paved the way for economic collapse in 1991, was a “huge plus” for the country, Peskov said in October.

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