Gorbachev demands overhaul of Russian political system

MOSCOW — Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the Soviet Union, now 82 and increasingly frail, may have needed a helping hand to climb on stage for a speech at the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency.

Oratorically, however, he seemed nimble enough, delivering a sharp poke in the gut to President Vladimir Putin.

‘‘Politics is more and more turning into an imitation,’’ Gorbachev said. ‘‘All power is in the hands of the executive. The Parliament only seals its decisions. Judicial power is not independent. The economy is monopolized, hooked to the oil and gas needle. Entrepreneurs’ initiative is curbed, small and medium businesses face huge barriers.’’


Gorbachev, invoking ‘‘perestroika’’ — the Russian word for ‘‘restructuring’’ and the brand name of his reforms that brought about the fall of communism and helped him get the Nobel Peace Prize — called for yet another renewal of the Russian political system.

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His prepared speech, posted later on the Internet, was even tougher than the remarks he delivered. In it, he wrote that by curtailing freedoms and tightening restrictions on civil society groups and the press, Putin had adopted ‘‘a ruinous and hopeless path.’’

Unlike in the West, where he is still revered for his role in ending the Cold War, Gorbachev has largely faded into insignificance in Russia. He is remembered far more for the chaos and deprivation of the 1990s that followed him than for delivering the citizens of the Soviet Union from tyranny.

Nonetheless, his speech, made Friday during a brief foray out of a Moscow hospital where he is undergoing a lengthy checkup, drew angry responses from the Kremlin.

Sergei Neverov, the deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament and a leader of United Russia, the party that nominated Putin for president, said, ‘‘Mikhail Sergeyevich has already been the initiator of one perestroika, and as a result we lost the country.’’


He defended the policies of Putin and United Russia, which he said ‘‘helped us to preserve the state, to solve the problem of poverty and to stop the criminals trying to grab power.’’

Alexei Pushkov, a member of United Russia and chief of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the lower house, rejected Gorbachev’s objections by criticizing Gorbachev. ‘‘The cost of a painful process, the cost of huge losses from a major transformation of our country has already occurred,’’ Pushkov said.

After the Soviet Union’s dissolution, he said, ‘‘It was the worst possible result: the collapse of the country and gangster capitalism.’’

Gorbachev, in a BBC interview in March, made harsh remarks on Putin’s government, saying it was replete with ‘‘thieves and corrupt officials. He offered a harsh assessment of laws clamping down on nongovernmental groups.

‘‘The common thread running through all of them is an attack on the rights of citizens,’’ he said. ‘‘For goodness sake, you shouldn’t be afraid of your own people.’’


In the BBC interview, Gorbachev also defended himself. ‘‘I’m often accused 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?’’

In his speech at RIA-Novosti, Gorbachev allowed that Putin’s government had beaten back a rising political opposition movement. ‘‘They managed to put down the wave of protests for some time,’’ he said. ‘‘But the problems of the country have not gone away.’’

Specifically, he pointed to widening income disparity and corruption. ‘‘The gap in incomes and living standards between the small mostly well-to-do stratum of the population and all the rest is unacceptably high,’’ Gorbachev said.

‘‘Corruption has acquired a colossal scope.’’