Putin response to protests 'shameful': Gorbachev
The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Friday he was ashamed of Vladimir Putin and felt Dmitry Medvedev's career was finished by his refusal to find fault with Russia's fraud-tainted vote.
Gorbachev's rebuke came in an interview with the opposition Novaya Gazeta paper -- which he part owns -- on the eve of new protests over December 4 elections that the ruling party narrowly won despite dwindling support.
"This is shameful. And embarrassing. I, for example, am ashamed," Gorbachev said in reference to a television appearance last week in which Putin compared the white ribbons worn by Russian protesters to condoms.
"I feel tied to Putin in the sense that at first, when he came to power, I actively supported him everywhere -- both here and abroad. And now look."
Former KGB agent Putin and Medvedev -- suspected of more liberal leanings when he replaced his mentor as president in 2008 -- have both dismissed the fraud allegations and linked protests to shadowy funding from the West.
The vote saw their ruling United Russia party narrowly retain its majority despite allegations of widespread voter irregularities in Moscow and ballot stuffing across other regions of Russia.
The so-called "ruling tandem" intend to swap jobs after March presidential elections in arrangement where Medvedev is to become Putin's prime minister.
But Gorbachev said Medvedev had lost his credibility as a politician by refusing to question the election results.
"He said that he had no complaints or doubts about the elections. And with that, Dmitry Anatolyevich I think drew the curtain on his career," the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize winner said.
Saturday's protests in Moscow are expected to draw tens of thousands of people under a broad call for new parliamentary elections and an end to election fraud.
Election authorities have already dismissed the vast majority of the vote complaints and at one stage accused Russians who posted footage of apparent ballot box abuses on the Internet of doctoring the footage.
Medvedev convened the first session of parliament this week and on Thursday announced a tentative political reform plan apparently designed to appease the opposition.
One of his top political advisers played up the initiatives Friday as a signal that the authorities were listening to the calls for change.
"The people are saying that they matter, that they exist," top Kremlin ideologue Vladimir Surkov told the Izvestia daily.
"We cannot arrogantly dismiss their views."
One of Medvedev's initiatives intends to return Russia to direct regional elections for the first time since Putin abolished them as president in 2004.
The Kremlin has yet to spell out how the process might work after Putin said that all regional candidates would still have to be vetted by the Kremlin before they are put up for a vote.
"We are still holding consultation with United Russia and the other factions about this," presidential adviser Arkady Dvorkovich was quoted as saying by news agencies. "It is premature to talk about the details."
Putin himself said last week that completely free local polls without any Kremlin interference was "not a priority" of his likely presidency.
A second proposal submitted by Medvedev for parliamentary approval Friday intends to make it easier for political parties to register for elections.
The draft says parties can legally exist with as few as 500 members -- compared to the current minimum of 45,000 -- and would no longer need to collect set numbers of registered voter signatures to qualify for the polls.
© 2011 AFP