Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union and the man credited in the West with helping to end the Cold War without violence, repeated earlier criticism of Vladimir Putin's continued leadership in Russia in an interview published in the weekly Argumenty i Fakty on Wednesday, his 80th birthday.
Gorbachev said Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev were rolling back democracy in Russia and that under the two men there had been an "attack on the freedoms and rights of the people."
He also specifically warned Putin not to run in next year's presidential elections and try to secure a third term as president.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin] has already served two terms, and one more as prime minister," he said. "I would not run for president if I were in his place."
Putin served as president until 2008, when his chosen successor Dmitry Medvedev was elected and the constitution barred him from serving a third term. Putin then became prime minister, a position officially below that of president, but he is widely seen as still holding the reins. He has hinted he may now run again for president or endorse Medvedev for a second term.
Gorbachev said he likes both Putin and Medvedev as people, but that "both of them must understand that their time is limited."
"People … do not want to be a mass, a flock led for decades by the same shepherds," he said.
Honoring his work
Gorbachev, who was celebrating his birthday privately at home in suburban Moscow, was decorated with Russia's highest state honor on Wednesday by Medvedev.
"This is the proper recognition of your enormous work as head of state," Medvedev said. "You headed our country in a very difficult, dramatic period," he said, adding that the Andrei Pervozvanny order was a "symbol of the state's respect" for Gorbachev's work.
Gorbachev's 1980s perestroika and glasnost programs were meant to restructure and revitalize the Soviet Union but ultimately led to the superpower's breakup in 1991. This has earned the former leader commendation in the wider world but ambivalence at home in Russia.
Author: Holly Fox (AFP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Susan Houlton