"I keep saying that Russia needs more democracy. I think if democracy is firmly rooted, if it is based on elections, if people have the chance to elect leaders at regular intervals, I think that is what we need."
"That is the basis for stability in foreign and domestic policy."
"We hear, even from people close to Putin, statements that emphasize authoritarianism, that emphasize decisiveness and that suggest that democracy can only be achieved far into the future. He considers himself deputy-God, I don’t know for what matters, though."
Mikhail S. Gorbachev, former Russian president
"Some love him [Mikhail Gorbachev] for bringing freedom, and others loathe him for bringing freedom."
Dmitri Muratov, editor, Novaya Gazeta
Mr. Gorbachev is a patriot, wishing only what he could imagine would be best to advance his country into a well-designed and prosperous and fair future, a distinct departure from the past. Little did he imagine that his successor would mentor a former KGB operative who would become a facsimile of the dictatorship that ruled and ruined the Soviet Union. Yet he saw it in him to agree with the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Where Mr. Gorbachev took steps to introduce his country to democratic ideals in slow motion and Mr. Yeltsin was eager to be liked and to usher his transformed country onto the world stage, his alcoholic stupors stifled his capacity to adequately judge the character of the man he was grooming to take his place. And now, Russia has its President-in-perpetuity, who yearns to return the country to the good old days of hegemonic rule.
Mr. Gorbachev has just celebrated his 85th birthday with his wide circle of friends and admirers. It is doubtful that Vladimir Putin was present, or even invited, since it is equally doubtful each has much to say to the other. Vladimir V. Putin does not take kindly to his critics. "He [Putin] began suffering from the same disease from which I used to suffer: self-assuredness", commented Mr. Gorbachev, generously, during an interview.
Yet, where the comparison comes in is elusive to the mere onlooker; Mr. Gorbachev's perspective is that of an insider. An insider all too aware of his vulnerability to prosecution as a critic of the state and more critically, of its strong man. Civil liberties are not so assured in Russia as they might have been when Russia was still adapting to its change in fortunes.
There is a slight edge of bitter denunciation not without cause, when Mr. Gorbachev speaks of the manner in which a newly-dissolved Soviet Russia was regarded by the West. Not that there weren't useful initiatives, when the West saw it as their collective responsibility to help Russia clean up its shambolic nuclear sites.
But there was a casual dismissiveness in the relationship between the West and Russia that hadn't existed when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were considered the world's superpowers. A Russia attempting to re-acclimatize itself and reeling in economic distress was left to its own devices and perhaps regarded with a level of scorn unbecoming to nations with a regard for world stability.
That NATO and the European Union in particular overlooked the dignity of Russian pride, to jostle toward the prospect of social annexation of once-dependent Soviet satellites was viewed by Russia as both insult and assault. "There was a mood of triumphalism at the end of the Cold War that was shared by many", said Mr. Gorbachev with regret and condemnation.
But the celebratory, congratulatory and joyful mood at his birthday party must have been of some solace to him personally. Toasts went the rounds as the ambassadors of the United States, Germany, France and Israel saluted the man whose birthday it was, a man of uncommon integrity and honesty, grit and determination, whom fortune abandoned when death took his wife Raisa far too soon, giving him his "greatest loss" in life.