Gorbachev: Russia needs sweeping reforms

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has appealed to the Kremlin to make Russia more democratic, saying President Dmitry Medvedev’s push to modernise the country would not succeed otherwise.
Mr Gorbachev, the author of the bold reforms which triggered the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, said that Russia now needed a fresh wave of “glasnost” (openness) and “perestroika” (restructuring).
“Modernisation can be carried out but only if the people, the entire population, are included in the whole process,” Mr Gorbachev said in a 90-minute conversation in the offices of his foundation in Moscow.
“We need democracy, we need improvement of the electoral system and so on. Without that, it will not succeed,” he said. Mr Gorbachev’s call comes as a growing number of voices within the Russian elite are calling for political reform to accompany efforts to modernise and diversify the oil-dependent economy.
Now 79, the former Soviet leader has grown more portly and speaks softly and more slowly, the trademark birth mark on his head a little faded. Active overseas, he has a low public profile in Russia and is frank about his disappointment that his countrymen do not view him more fondly. In Moscow, he sponsors a small pro-democracy political party and a radical Opposition newspaper.
Mr Gorbachev said Russia had fallen behind major powers and compared the country’s dependence on oil revenues and its inability to build a competitive economy to the situation he inherited when he became Soviet leader in 1985 at the age of 54. “Modernisation is the key word,” he said. “If you remember, perestroika started when we understood how far behind we had fallen. Russia is right now facing some very serious challenges ... above all about the level of technology.”
Russia’s decade-long boom, powered by high oil prices and easy foreign loans, stalled in 2008 as the global financial crisis hit. Mr Medvedev has said the severity of the slump shows Russia needs a big modernisation drive.

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