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August 17, 2011

Gorbachev Slams Russian PM On Democracy

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has accused Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of undermining democracy in Russia.

Gorbachev spoke to the BBC in an interview Thursday, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of a failed coup aimed at removing him from power.  The coup attempt on August 19, 1991, and the events that followed led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The former Soviet leader said  Putin's efforts to build stability have resulted in stagnation.  He said that while the former Soviet electoral system was nothing remarkable,  Putin's team, in his words, literally castrated it.

As president, Putin reformed the electoral system to allow Russians to vote only for political parties rather than specific candidates in parliamentary elections.  He also ended the popular election of governors and independent lawmakers.

Gorbachev acknowledged that the Putin years have seen some successes, but said Russia now needs direct elections and new leadership.

Earlier this week,  Gorbachev told The Guardian that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is being outmaneuvered and outsmarted by Putin, who is now prime minister.  He said Medvedev's attempts to modernize Russia are blocked by his powerful prime minister.

Gorbachev turned 80 in March.  He received the Nobel peace Prize in 1990, and is widely recognized for helping end decades-long East-West confrontation.

The August coup of 1991 was defeated within 60 hours by pro-democracy crowds in Moscow that faced down tanks.  Officials across the communist country abandoned the Soviet bureaucracy and pledged their loyalty to the newly elected Russian administration of Boris Yeltsin.

The huge multinational state soon fell apart as the constituent republics one after another demanded independence.

Gorbachev resigned on Christmas Day 1991, and the red hammer-and-sickle Soviet flag was pulled down from the Kremlin.

Although Gorbachev initially welcomed Putin, he has grown increasingly critical of Putin over the years.