Jewish World Review Feb. 23, 2011 / 19 Adar I, 5771
Medvedev rebuffs Gorbachev's warning of Egyptian scenario in Russia. Who's right?
By Fred Weir
Former Soviet President is outspoken about Russia's vulnerabilities --- something the Kremlin denies
OSCOW (TCSM) A week after former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev warned that the winds of change now blowing through the Middle East could yet whip up a storm in Russia, the nation's current president vowed that uprisings in the Arab world will not be repeated here.
In comments that betrayed Kremlin nervousness, President Dmitry Medvedev today warned that the pro-democracy wave sweeping Egypt and other countries could bring "extremists" to power.
"Let us face the truth," Mr. Medvedev said, "they have prepared such a scenario for us too, and they will try to carry it out. But this scenario will not pass." He did not elaborate on who "they" might be.
To be sure, Russia is very different from the Middle Eastern societies currently seething with pro-democracy turmoil, but nagging parallels are beginning to worry many in the country's top elite. And who better to make those comparisons explicit than Mr. Gorbachev, the man who tried to foster democracy in the former USSR before being swept from power by the very forces he had unleashed?
"If things continue the way they are, I think the probability of the Egyptian scenario will grow," Gorbachev said in a radio interview last week. "But here it could end far worse."
GORBACHEV OUTSPOKEN IN CRITICISMS
Russia is heading into an intense political season, with regional polls next month, elections for a new Duma (parliament) in December, and a presidential vote in just over a year from a field that has not yet declared a single candidate.
Recent regional elections have looked so unfair and blatantly stage-managed that even Medvedev criticized them, although in what seems to be a pattern with Medvedev he took no further steps.
DEMOCRATIC REFORM NEEDED, SAYS FINANCE MINISTER
It is important, he told an economic conference, that the upcoming elections be "fair and honest, that they represent all leading political forces of society. Only this will give the mandate of confidence that is necessary for economic reforms," he said. "If a lack of confidence emerges, we will be unable to fulfill our tasks properly."
That drew a tough rebuke from leaders of the ruling party United Russia, who saw it as an attack on their party's electoral monopoly on the use of government resources and state media as well as it has been frequently alleged outright fraud to dominate virtually all the country's legislatures, from the Duma down to small municipal councils.
TOUGH WORDS FOR PUTIN AND MEDVEDEV
Gorbachev described the party, which is headed by Putin, as a "rotting monopoly" that is hampering Russia's democratic development. "United Russia reminds me of a bad copy of the Soviet Communist Party," which Gorbachev himself once led, he added.
But he reserved his toughest words for Putin and Medvedev, who have pledged to decide between themselves which of them will run for president next year. Gorbachev called that "incredible conceit" and a show of deep disrespect for Russian voters.
"It's not Putin's business. It must be decided by the nation in the elections, by those who would cast ballots," Gorbachev said. "Can't other people also run?"
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