Commentary Magazine


Remorse of a Revolutionary: Gorbachev Takes On Putin

It is almost hard to believe there was only one Russian leader in between Mikhail Gorbachev and Vladimir Putin. Two decades have passed now since Gorbachev oversaw the unraveling of the Soviet Union, yet the revolution has produced something closer to where it started than where Gorbachev’s Western counterparts envisioned it leading. And the frustration has begun boiling over into a public feud between the two men.

“(Prime Minister) Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) has got involved in earnest, but this isn’t working,” Gorbachev told Ekho Moskvy radio this week. He said the current parliament is run by “personal loyalties and nepotism,” and as for the Putin-created Russian Popular Front: “I won’t help them because they are dragging us backward, or slowing us down at the very least… It suits [Putin] because he wants to preserve the status quo and keep his hold on power.”

He also had some suggested election reforms, according to Interfax:

He argued Russia needs to revise its election legislation. Single-mandate constituencies should be brought back, direct gubernatorial elections should be reintroduced, early voting should be abolished, and the minimum proportion of votes to be won for receiving seats in the State Duma should be set at 5 percent, he suggested.

But Putin’s party, United Russia, was happy to engage Gorbachev, an indication they believe the octogenarian is becoming irrelevant to the country’s political identity–especially among the young.

Sergey Neverov, acting secretary of the United Russia General Council Board, fired back. “Let’s think back to Mikhail Gorbachev’s years in power and the decisions he was making… We lost the country that was called the Soviet Union. Then we nearly lost Russia when an economic crisis began which saw hundreds of thousands of enterprises cease working, people did not get paid for months, and some were attempting to dismantle the state bit by bit,” Neverov said.

This tells you something about just how wide the gulf is between the ideology of Putin and that of Gorbachev; Putin’s party views the dissolution of the Soviet Union as the low tide of modern Russian history–and is happy to say so. Gorbachev, of course, wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about it either, and so he may be more concerned with his own personal legacy than true demokratizatsiya. Neverov added that Putin saved the country that Gorbachev nearly lost, and then threw in a personal shot at Gorbachev, wondering whether “a person who pompously celebrates his birthday in London can categorically state what the Russian people want or do not want.”

Putin believes that he, not Gorbachev, has public opinion on his side. The lack of any semblance of democracy in Russia today, however, will ensure that no one will know if that’s true.