Answering question from BosNewsLife, Gorbachev, admitted that Russia today was not the country he envisaged when he launched his policy of Perestroika in the late 1980s that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
He said recent detentions of former chess champion Garry Kasparov and other opposition leaders ahead of Sunday’s ballot, showed that Russia had not yet completed its transition from what he called “totalitarianism” towards democracy.
The 76-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate spoke on the sidelines of his World Political Forum (WPF) in Budapest, where officials, former prime ministers and presidents discussed the future of Europe amid mounting concerns about tensions between Russia and the European Union over issues such as energy, weapons and human rights.
TREATY’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY
The WPF, the brainchild of Gorbachev, was held in Budapest at a time when Europe commemorates the 50th anniversary of the EU’s founding Treaty of Rome. Delegates attending the meeting seemed in no mood to celebrate the anniversary.
Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany expressed concerns about Europe’s dependency on Russian energy and said EU member states should unite when buying gas or oil from Moscow, instead of competing with each other. Others, including Gorbachev, spoke about the crackdown on dissidents ahead of Sunday’s ballot.
"Russia is about halfway in its process of change. So it is not the Russia that we expected and not yet the goal we were moving towards,"Gorbachev explained to BosNewsLife. Christian groups have also expressed concerns about what they see as a crackdown on non-Orthodox churches, clergy and missionaries in the country. "There are ofcourse many faiths in Russia," Gorbachev added.
ASKING MORE UNDERSTANDING
Yet, he asked "understanding" for Russia’s slow phase towards a full fledged democracy with political and religious rights. "Given that many people live in poverty I think that many people don’t value democratic values as they should, according to opinion polls too," he said, referring to the expected victory for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party.
However, he stressed, "There has been a very excessive attitude towards those who demonstrate in the streets," against the Kremlin. "Why did they arrest Kasparov for five days? That’s excessive," Gorbachev said.
The former Soviet leader urged the European Union not to walk away from Russia. "Sometimes EU enlargement is seen as the only solution. What about the changes in the Soviet Union? We shouldn’t speak about Russia and Europe, but build trust."
Gorbachev also criticized the United States, saying it sometimes appears it wants to create divisions in Europe . America , he said, apparently tries to build a new empire, by increasing spending on the military and invading countries such as Iraq.
NEW COLD WAR?
However Germany’s former Security Advisor Horst Teltschik suggested that attempts to improve relations with Moscow have been made difficult by Vladimir Putin, who has been criticized for his perceived lack of democratic credentials and walking away from a key arms treaty.
On Friday, November 30, President Vladimir Putin signed a law suspending Russia’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which dates back to 1990.
"Where is Russia going? Will we face again a strong division between Western and Eastern Europe?. Or even a new Cold War?," wondered Teltschik. "Does it mean the end of the idea of a common European House? This is really my main concern today, that we will get a new divide, between Russia and the West."
He suggested it was therefore important to rebuild trust by eventually integrating Russia into the NATO alliance and the European Union. Referring to its previous government, he urged Poland "not to block" these attempts and said Germany should play "a leading role in Europe’s" negotiations with Russia. "If Germany doesn’t do it, nobody will," he said.
Observers say much will depend on whether Putin will tone down the perceived anti-Western rhetoric after Sunday’s ballot. More than 100 million people were eligible to vote for legislators in the 450-seat State Duma – the lower house of parliament.