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Gorbachev Says Russia Reversing Democratic Freedoms, US Acting Unilaterally


Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev says there has been a reversal of democratic freedoms in Russia. He also accuses the United States of a "victory complex" that is complicating global politics following the end of the Cold War. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky has this report.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made himself available to reporters Friday for 90 minutes of questions at the Interfax News Agency in Moscow.

The first question, however, followed a verbal assault coming not from a reporter, but Nikolai Kurianovich, a member of parliament and self-identified Russian nationalist. The lawmaker accused Mr. Gorbachev of destroying the Soviet Union, and then asked why he is hated at home and honored in the West.

The former leader made no apologies, saying that the Soviet Union was one of more than 100 authoritarian and dictatorial countries that left the world stage in the 20th Century. "But frankly," said Mr. Gorbachev, "there is a wave in the opposite direction today. As it turns out, not everything lent itself to a mechanical fix." He added that much needs to be done, so that people and institutions learn to live in a free and democratic environment.

The last Soviet leader cited rollbacks of free media in Russia. Nonetheless, Mr. Gorbachev said, he supports the political positions of Vladimir Putin, and welcomes the current Kremlin leader's decision to step down next year as required by the constitution.

Mikhail Gorbachev described himself as a social democrat who supports positive aspects of capitalism and such government safeguards as social justice, health care and education. To illustrate the social needs of his country, he cited a recent public opinion poll, which indicates only 17 percent of Russians - the wealthiest - can afford to shop in supermarkets, which have only recently begun to replace traditional and less expensive markets. That, he says, raises questions about the remaining 83 percent who cannot afford the relatively expensive conveniences offered by supermarkets.

Mr. Gorbachev said this indicates an acute problem. "So, these are the problems that need to be addressed, as well as issues of health care, employment, family welfare, and salaries," he said. " We have only just begun to pay at least a bit of attention to such matters.

Mr. Gorbachev accused the United States of acting unilaterally after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he said is increasing tensions around the world, particularly in Iraq.

It's turmoil, said the former president, and the only way out should be through political solutions, cooperation, and an increased role for international institutions. Americans, he said, need to understand that.

However, Mr. Gorbachev said that understanding is likely to come not from President Bush, but rather his successor.

Asked whether he has plans to participate in upcoming Russian elections, the former Soviet politician says yes, but only as a voter. And speaking from experience, he added that Vladimir Putin will have plenty to do after leaving office.

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