Gorbachev tells Putin: Leave now

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 25 2011 08:38 PM | Updated as of Dec 26 2011 04:38 AM

MOSCOW - Twenty years after he appeared on Soviet television to announce he was resigning as president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev has told Vladimir Putin it is time he took the same bitter medicine.

After finally admitting that the state he had tried to save through his perestroika reforms had ceased to exist, Gorbachev on December 25, 1991 quit his post of his own free will.

His resignation hammered the final nail into the coffin of the USSR and instantly cast Gorbachev out to the political wilderness, admired in the West but abhorred by many Russians for presiding over the collapse of their state.

But after the largest protest yet Saturday against Putin's domination of Russia, Gorbachev on the eve of the anniversary of his own resignation became one of the most prominent Russian personalities to say he should go.

"I would advise Vladimir Putin to leave now. He has had three terms: two as president and one as prime minister. Three terms -- that is enough," Gorbachev said, urging Putin not to pursue plans to run for president in 2012.

"He should do the same thing I did. That is what I would do. That way, he would be able to preserve all the positive things he did," Gorbachev told Moscow Echo radio.

Gorbachev had been generally supportive of Putin for most of his two terms as president to 2008 and his current post as prime minister, although he notably co-owns Russia's main opposition newspaper the Novaya Gazeta.

But he has sharply turned against Putin over December's parliamentary elections which the opposition says was rigged.

"I extended a lot of support to Vladimir Vladimirovich here and abroad and he deserved that then. But now there is such a situation that we can't do anything," he said.

Health reasons prevented Gorbachev from attending Saturday's rally on Sakharov Avenue -- named after the late Soviet dissident -- but one of the protest leaders, Vladimir Ryzhkov, passed on his greetings to the protestors.

Gorbachev, 80, who lost his wife Raisa to cancer in 1999, said he was happy to have lived to see the new protest movement.

"I am happy that I have lived to see this awakening. There were two generations at the protest. This creates great hope and I don't think it will just end in talk," he said.

He described Saturday's protest and the first mass rally on December 10 as "historic moments in our modern life. It shows the ideas and beliefs in which our people have believed."

The next years would be momentous ones for Russia, Gorbachev predicted. "These are going to be the hardest years, the next 6-12 years will decide what is going to happen to us."

Gorbachev had throughout winter of 1991 made last-ditch efforts to save the Soviet Union and was furious when Boris Yeltsin and other leaders signed accords in his absence on December 8 that effectively ended its existence.

But when the writing was truly on the wall, he went of his own accord.

Ex-KGB agent Putin has repeatedly expressed regret that the USSR's last leaders failed to save the Soviet Union and his spokesman Dmitry Peskov brushed off Gorbachev's call for him to resign.

"We, and I personally, respect him (Gorbachev) very much. But I was born in 1967 in the Soviet Union. And this country ceased to exist when he was its leader," Peskov told AFP.

Gorbachev has always been praised in the West for freely letting the Communist bloc states in Eastern Europe break away from Moscow's influence without armed intervention.

He compared Russia's current situation to Communist Poland in the late 1980s when strikes and protests led by the Solidarity movement were shaking the rule of General Wojciech Jaruzelski.

"General Jaruzelski, my friend, phoned me and said 'Mikhail Sergeyevich, we have Solidarity, it looks like society (is behind it) and we cannot pretend that this simply does not mean anything. We have to change. We need to open a roundtable and start talks. What do you think?'"

"And I said, 'I support this'," remembered Gorbachev.