RUSSIAN PRIME minister Vladimir Putin has rebuffed calls from former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to resign in the face of growing protests against his rule, his plans to return to the presidency and his party’s allegedly rigged election victory.
Speaking 20 years after he resigned and the Soviet Union collapsed, Mr Gorbachev told Mr Putin to quit as tens of thousands rallied in Moscow for the second time this month to denounce Russia’s ruling elite and the December 4th election triumph of the United Russia party.
“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,” Mr Gorbachev said on Russian radio.
“There shouldn’t be a monopoly of power, we don’t need any tsars. He should do the same thing I did. That way, he would be able to preserve all the positive things he did.”
Mr Gorbachev (80) has been increasingly vocal in his criticism of Mr Putin, and has compared the surge in public protest with the mood that gripped the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, when he loosened the state’s grip on Soviet life through his perestroika reforms.
“I’m happy that I have lived to see the people waking up. This raises big hopes,” said Mr Gorbachev, who has called for the December 4th elections to be annulled and re-run, and urged Russians not to vote for candidates in the March presidential election who do not share that aim.
Mr Putin expects – and is overwhelming favourite – to return to the Kremlin in March, possibly for another 12 years in power.
He has mocked the protesters and said their leaders are controlled by the United States, which he blamed for triggering the post-election protests.
He has said he will tolerate peaceful demonstrations, and President Dmitry Medvedev – who intends to swap places with Mr Putin in March – has proposed reforms aimed at decentralising Russian power and loosening the ruling elite’s control over the nation’s politics and media.
Mr Putin has dismissed calls for a repeat of this month’s election, which saw his United Russia party suffer a sharp fall in its winning majority and fail to take 50 per cent of votes.
“As a politician and a presidential candidate, Putin still has the support of a majority. And we should treat the opinion of a majority with respect,” said the premier’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.
Mr Peskov also rejected Mr Gorbachev’s call on Mr Putin to resign, saying: “The former leader of a vast nation, who presided over its collapse, is calling on a person to step down who managed to save Russia from the same fate.”
In Moscow on Christmas Eve, tens of thousands of people attended an anti-government rally.
Police said about 29,000 people had gathered at the main protest, but organisers put the numbers at some 120,000, and pledged to mobilise one million people for the next demonstration.