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Gorbachev Warns of Egypt-Style Russian Revolt

February 17, 2011



MOSCOW—Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said he is “ashamed” with the way Russia is run today and warned the Kremlin could face an Egypt-style uprising.

Nearly two decades after his reforms led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev denounced Russia’s “ruling class” as “rich and dissolute,” in an interview published Wednesday in Novaya Gazeta, the opposition newspaper of which he is part-owner. “I’m ashamed for us and for the country,” he said.

He lambasted the Kremlin for eroding the free media and elections that he introduced in the 1980s, and warned that its grip on power could be threatened.

“If things continue the way they are, I think the probability of the Egyptian scenario will grow,” he said in a separate radio interview released Tuesday, referring to the popular rebellion that ousted longtime President Hosni Mubarak last week. “Here it could end even more staggeringly,” he said.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on Tuesday, warned the West against supporting the popular uprisings in the Middle East in what some analysts saw as a sign of the Kremlin’s concern.

At present, public support for the Kremlin appears strong. Opposition parties, many of which have been banned by authorities, are small and weak. Police regularly disperse antigovernment demonstrations.

Mr. Gorbachev, who gets limited attention in the state media in Russia, has been speaking publicly in recent weeks ahead of his 80th birthday on March 2.

Still reviled by many Russians for bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev is probably more popular in the West, where he is credited with bringing an end to Soviet totalitarianism and the Cold War.

Current and former world leaders, as well as actors and other celebrities, are expected at a birthday celebration at the end of March at London’s Royal Albert Hall, according to officials at Mr. Gorbachev’s charitable fund.

Mr. Gorbachev has long been critical of the Kremlin’s moves in the last decade to roll back electoral and media freedoms, and in recent months has stepped up his criticism of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

“They’ve come to believe they’re the saviors of the fatherland,” Mr. Gorbachev said in the radio interview. “The policy they’re offering now is to throw everything behind personal power to keep it in their hands.”

Messrs. Putin and Medvedev have said they will decide together later this year who will run for president next spring. The Kremlin’s candidate is virtually certain to win. Many observers expect Mr. Putin, who was president until term limits forced him to step down in 2008, to return to the presidency next year.

Kremlin spokesmen weren’t available Wednesday for comment on Mr. Gorbachev’s interviews, but have dismissed his past criticisms. Messrs. Putin and Medvedev have said repeatedly they are committed to strengthening democracy.

Mr. Gorbachev hailed these public pronouncements, but said, “the smell of imitation is getting stronger and stronger,” as the pledges aren’t backed up with real changes.

“We have democratic institutions, but they aren’t effective, they’re used to cover arbitrary rule, abuse,” he said. “Society has been broken, it’s accepted the falsehoods.”

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