MOSCOW – In some of his strongest criticism of his successors, Mikhail Gorbachev on Thursday likened Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party to the worst of the communists he once led and helped bring down, and said Russia is today a country where the parliament and the judiciary are not fully free.
In an interview with the Associated Press some 20 years after the Soviet empire started its rapid collapse on his tumultuous watch, Gorbachev also said the global economic crisis showed capitalism should be tempered with elements of the socialist system he played such a critical role in sweeping away.
The last Soviet leader was interviewed in the offices of his Gorbachev Foundation, a think tank founded in 1992 to promote “democratic values and moral, humanistic principles” – as well as, some say, Gorbachev himself. A little aged and more heavyset perhaps, Gorbachev, 78, seemed feisty, friendly and often reminiscent of the man who once ruled one of two superpowers.
Gorbachev is a paradoxical figure even after all these years – widely credited around the world with a historic convulsion he admits he did not intend. He sought to fix communism, not destroy it, and in the interview said that while he was willing to let Eastern Europe go its own way he very much hoped the republics that formed the Soviet Union would stay united.
“I was a resolute opponent of the breakup of the union,” said Gorbachev, who was forced to step down on Dec. 25, 1991, as the country he led ceased to exist.
He still holds out hope that one day Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus will join with Russia in forming a new union.
He seemed to view the global meltdown as partly the result of years of Western hubris and excess.
“The American media trumpeted … about the victory in the Cold War, that socialism is down. This disease of extreme self-confidence led to it – the (belief) that things would always go on this way. And it did last long … I think that now everyone is learning a hard lesson.
“It is necessary to overcome these mistakes of super-consumerism, of super-profits.” he said. “We have to think about finding – through the G-20 or other institutions – new models of development (and) cooperation.”
The world should look for a composite system, he said, which incorporates “the past experience of all that the capitalist system brings, like competitiveness, and what socialism gives – especially a social safety net.”
Gorbachev also said the moment was right for improved U.S.-Russia relations, expressed skepticism about the wisdom of Ukraine joining NATO, and called on the world community to head off the prospect of an Iranian nuclear weapon not with confrontation but rather “a maximal dialogue.”
“Let (Iran) integrate itself into the global community, build normal relations,” he said.
Gorbachev had harsh words for the current Russian leadership, singling out United Russia, the party Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has built into a political juggernaut at the center of a tremendously centralized – albeit popular – power structure.
“I criticize United Russia a lot, and I do it directly,” the last Soviet leader said. “It is a party of bureaucrats and the worst version of the CPSU” – the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. “Regarding our parliament, I cannot say that it is independent (and) also our judiciary does not fully comply with the provisions of the constitution.”
In the interview, Gorbachev was philosophical about his declining political fortunes.
“Personally, as a politician, I lost. But the idea that I conveyed and the project that I carried out, it played a huge role in the world and the country. But now the situation is such that more and more people are starting to understand what Gorbachev did …
“But anyway, we have gone far, and there’s no return.”