Gorbachev: Putin has exhausted himself as Russian leader

Former Soviet leader warns of more protests if the Russian prime minister does not 'change the way things are'

The former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said Vladimir Putin has exhausted himself as Russia's leader.

Gorbachev, who called on Putin to step down as protests against his rule grew in December, said the powerful prime minister could face a sustained popular uprising against his rule similar to those seen in Arab capitals.

"He has exhausted himself," Gorbachev said during a lecture at a Moscow university on Thursday. "If he does not overcome himself, change the way things are – and I think it will be difficult for him to do that – then everything will end up on city squares."

Gorbachev first called for Putin to resign after tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in mid-December demanding new elections in the wake of a contested parliamentary vote. As the 4 March presidential election approaches, protesters have turned their attention to preventing Putin's return to the Kremlin.

Speaking to Russia's Dozhd (Rain) TV earlier this week, Gorbachev, 81, said he did not foresee a violent crackdown on Russia's protesters, noting that Putin and his advisers had too much to lose. Gorbachev oversaw the collapse of the Soviet Union and the violent crackdowns on public protests in some of the empire's republics.

Gorbachev reiterated his calls for Putin to step down and said that the system created by the powerful leader during 12 years of rule "must be destroyed". "It's the system that must be changed," Gorbachev said on Dozhd. Putin and many of his closest advisers rose up through the Soviet system and its notorious secret services.

While respected abroad and by much of the liberal intelligentsia, Gorbachev remains one of the most disliked figures inside Russia, seen as ushering in the chaos and poverty that followed the Soviet Union's collapse. A pro-Putin protest that gathered last weekend to counter a mass demonstration against the regime played on that fact, with demonstrators saying they were against a "second perestroika", referring to Gorbachev's policy of political reforms.


Miriam Elder in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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