Kremlin 'banned my political party': Gorbachev
The Soviet Union's last leader Mikhail Gorbachev Wednesday launched a stinging attack on Russia's "debauched" ruling elite, saying the Kremlin had banned him from creating a political party.
In an interview with Novaya Gazeta newspaper ahead of his 80th birthday on March 2, Gorbachev said he wanted to set up a social democratic party but the Kremlin's chief ideologue Vladislav Surkov warned it would not be registered.
"With my friends, I have an idea to set up a party. When Surkov found out, he asked: 'Why do you need this? In any case, we are not going to register your party'," Gorbachev said.
Surkov, Kremlin first deputy chief of staff, is credited with creating the centralised power system that has marked Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin as well as coining the phrase "sovereign democracy".
"I replied: 'We will create a movement'," Gorbachev said. "And we created it. But a movement is not a party and does not take part in elections. We need to have a social democratic party that does not depend on the authorities."
He accused the ruling class in Russia of showing indifference to its people and also lashed out at billionaire Roman Abramovich who has built up his fortune while staying well away from politics.
"They (the ruling classes) are rich and debauched. Their ideal is to be something close to Abramovich. I scorn this idea. I am ashamed of this rich debauchery. I am ashamed for us and the country."
While steering clear of any personal attack on either President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Putin, Gorbachev said politics in Russia had degenerated into a scheme for the elite to hang onto power.
"The authorities should not, do not have the right to use up all their energies, those of the people and the country's resources for the sake of their own preservation," he said.
He said the ruling tandem's politics appeared hollow: "I see that the president and Vladimir Putin both try, but more and more there is a whiff of imitation in the country."
Gorbachev said that real change was needed and lashed out at the Kremlin's cancellation of regional elections. "Is this stability? Or just the preservation of personal power?"
Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev remains a figure more admired in the West than in Russia, where many still blame him for triggering the collapse of a world power.
There is expected to be intense attention on his role in history as he gears up to mark his 80th birthday. Along with tycoon Alexander Lebedev, he is a part owner of the opposition Novaya Gazeta.
Celebrations in Russia on March 2 may be more modest compared to a lavish gala concert planned on March 30 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, due to be attended by celebrities ranging from Sharon Stone to Bryan Ferry.
In the interview, Gorbachev complained that Russians were forgetting the achievements of his perestroika restructuring and associated it only with economic problems.
"Now they are forgetting what was done. They reduce perestroika to our problems, the empty shelves. But it was then that we created the (freedom) people enjoy now when they go to church, get visas, surf the net or buy newspapers," he said.
"And I forgot to mention -- we avoided the catastrophe of a nuclear war. Now no-one seems to particularly remember this."
He said he had never touched the money he won as Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1990 and has instead spent the money on building hospitals for the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
© 2011 AFP