A responsible leader
By Mikhail Gorbachev
Friday, November 30, 2007
Last month I visited the United States, where I spoke at
universities, business associations and nongovernmental organizations.
After my comments, people stood in line, waiting for the microphones so
they could ask questions.
I refused to answer just one question: Whom would I support in the
U.S. presidential race? That is up to the American people, I said. This
was not diplomatic evasion. I do believe that we should trust the
people’s choice - and not just in America.
Of course I did not avoid questions about my country, and there were many. Here are some of them:
Q: Do you agree with those who believe that during the presidency of
Vladimir Putin there has been a retreat from democracy to an
A: I disagree. Following the chaos of the 1990s it was vitally
important to consolidate the powers of the state, to prevent its
In a situation like this, a responsible leader had to take certain
steps of an authoritarian nature, though some of them were, in my view,
avoidable - I am referring to restrictive changes in the election laws,
abolishing the election of regional governors and controls over
Yet Putin has not crossed the line that would turn Russia’s system
into an authoritarian regime. The objective is still to build a free,
I commend Putin’s decision to comply with the Constitution and not
run for a third presidential term. It opens the way to significant
changes, moving toward the effective functioning of democratic
institutions. Of course, such changes will not happen by themselves. We
need the forces that will support movement in that direction. I intend
to contribute to it within the emerging social-democratic movement.
Q: How would you characterize your relations with Vladimir Putin?
How often do you meet, and what would you say about his declared
intention to retain influence after his presidency?
A: Our relations are good, we sometimes meet. If I have an opinion
or a view, I make it known - in most cases publicly, through the media.
I see nothing wrong in Putin’s desire to influence the course of
events in Russia. Like any citizen, he is fully entitled to it, all the
more so since the country owes him a great deal and he earned the
support he enjoys.
His decision not to run for president is not a popular one. Had he
decided to change or circumvent the Constitution, a majority would have
supported and reelected him.
I think he has shown wisdom and courage. Russia will need his
experience in addressing the challenges of modernization and continued
Q: What are the main problems Russia is facing today, and how do you propose to solve them?
A: The problems are many, which is not surprising, for we are only
halfway in our transition from totalitarianism to fully sustainable
democracy. In the economy, while there is real growth there is also
inflation and rising prices for essential products, persistent poverty
and a huge income gap.
The economy is still not diversified; it still runs on the export of
hydrocarbons. We must act urgently to bring social and economic
development to small towns and rural areas, and to provide needed
incentives to small- and medium-sized businesses.
Serious problems affect politics. The Parliament has been weakened,
while the executive branch has excessive power, and the courts have not
become independent. The stranglehold of bureaucracy is becoming
increasingly unbearable; the battle against corruption has yet to
start, as the Duma has failed to adopt an anti-corruption law.
I am concerned about disturbing developments in inter-ethnic
relations and the xenophobia and intolerance that the government does
not always respond to promptly. Similarly, the authorities are not
doing enough to fight organized crime and to prevent the killings of
These and other problems can be solved. But to succeed we must
pursue a democratic path. We need effective opposition, real elections,
accountable government, and a greater role for Parliament and the
We also need understanding from our foreign partners. Confronting
Russia with unfair criticism and unwarranted demands is not conducive
to good relations with the West. It could leave a lasting impact on the
minds of the Russian people, giving them a negative attitude toward the
West for a long time to come.
I am sure that in the coming years Russia will show that it can make
new strides on the path of democracy. It can do so in a manner that
befits a world power - without upheaval or “color revolutions,” and
Mikhail Gorbachev, leader of the Soviet Union from 1985 until
its collapse in 1991, is president of the International Foundation for
Socio-Economic and Political Studies (The Gorbachev Foundation).
Mikhail Gorbachev: Putin is Good
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