The USSR’s last leader Mikhail Gorbachev has warned that Russia risks six lost years when Vladimir Putin returns to the presidency, echoing rumblings of dissent over his Kremlin comeback.
The announcement at the weekend that Putin, currently prime minister, will stand for president in 2012 and current Kremlin incumbent Dmitry Medvedev take the post of prime minister, sparked no mass protest actions in Russia.
However, long-serving Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin appeared to take the authorities by surprise when he spoiled their party by announcing that he had no intention of serving in a government led by Medvedev.
Gorbachev echoed concerns of liberals that Russia was currently at an “impasse” and doubted whether Putin – who served two terms as president to 2008 and has dominated Russia for a decade – was the man to implement change.
“It will be his mistake if the future president leaves everything without changes, thinks only about how to stay in power and tries to keep the old team – who are the ones to blame for how things are,” Gorbachev said on Monday.
“We can assume that there will be no movement forward if there are not serious changes along the lines of a replacement of the entire system,” he wrote in the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper, which he part owns.
“Without this we could lose six years. I think that the future president needs to think about this very seriously.”
With the presidential mandate now expanded to six years from four, Putin could in theory serve two more terms to 2024, by which time he would be 72 and the longest serving Moscow leader since Joseph Stalin.
Boldly, the Novaya Gazeta printed on its front page caricature sketches of Putin, Medvedev and other members of the elite as they would look as old men in 2024, dressed out in the medal-festooned uniform of Soviet nomenklatura officials.
Kudrin has so far proved the main dissenter from Russia’s new power scheme, dubbed a “castling” by official media after the move in chess when the king changes places with the rook.
He said he had major differences with Medvedev, whom he accused of seeking to ramp up spending – in particular on the military – to the detriment of Russia’s budgetary position.
But the Kommersant daily suggested that other issues may have also prompted the surprise announcement by Kudrin, who has been in his post since 2000 and is the longest serving finance minister among world powers.
“Kudrin very much wanted to lead a right-wing liberal party and could have had a very good project,” it quoted a source as saying.
“But they did not let him and promised that he would become prime minister in 2012. But now we know who that will be.”
Russia’s liberal press reacted cynically to the news, with the respected daily Vedomosti writing that the only way for a change of leadership in Russia would be street protests like in the Arab Spring.
“The swap by Putin and Medvedev does not provide the slightest hint of a readiness to solve long term problems,” it wrote.
“The tandem leaves no other option for a change of ruler other than the Tunisian-Egyptian path.”
Yet the announcement sparked no mass protests in Russia’s tightly controlled society, with the most significant gathering a rally by 300 supporters of opposition parties in Moscow on Sunday afternoon.