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The XXI century will be a сentury either of total all-embracing crisis or of moral and spiritual healing that will reinvigorate humankind. It is my conviction that all of us - all reasonable political leaders, all spiritual and ideological movements, all  faiths - must help in this transition to a triumph of humanism and justice, in making the XXI century a century of a new human renaissance.

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29 November 2007

Gorbachev endorses Putin in election and says Russia is serious partner of West

     Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, called for Russians to vote for President Putin's United Russia party in parliamentary elections on Sunday.
     «I would vote for him and I support him. Based on what I know, and comparing him with other candidates, I would prefer Putin», Mr Gorbachev told The Times in an exclusive interview.
     Mr Gorbachev's endorsement of President Putin will surprise his many friends in the West. He was adamant, however, and praised Mr Putin's handling of the country that he inherited seven years ago. He called on the West to take Russia seriously as a partner.
     «It is a fact that within Russia Putin is supported by up to 80 per cent of the population. For me that is a more persuasive argument as I live in Russia.
     «He has brought stabilisation to Russia. Not everyone would have been able to cope with the kind of legacy that he inherited from Boris Yeltsin. I did not think he would succeed but he did succeed in preventing total collapse in the country. He began solving some important social and economic problems and re-established governance in Russia. That has opened the way to the possibility of launching real modernisation».
     Human rights groups and Western governments have harshly criticised the increasing authoritarianism of President Putin's Government, its centralisation of power and its control of broadcast media. Strong concerns remain about corruption, police and army brutality and human rights abuses in Chechnya.
     The two men do not seem natural political allies. As Soviet leader from 1985, Mr Gorbachev introduced the ideas of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) and political freedoms. His initial aim was to reform the Soviet Union but he unleashed forces that ultimately led to the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989 and the Soviet Union itself in 1991. Mr Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.
     Now 76, he is no longer involved in parliamentary politics but he remains active in civil society, with particular interest in environmental and democratisation issues. Through his World Political Forum Mr Gorbachev has the ear of international leaders.
     Asked if stability was more important than democracy, Mr Gorbachev replied: «I don't think so. I think we need both things».
     Mr Gorbachev criticised the arrest last Sunday of Garry Kasparov, the opposition leader and former chess grandmaster, when police broke up a march organised by Mr Kasparov's Other Russia party. The most important human rights issues in Russia now are the freedom of electronic media and freedom of assembly, Mr Gorbachev said. «The arrest of Kasparov was an excessive reaction and I don't think it is justified. This is a decision taken by the police».
     The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the largest election monitoring body, has refused to monitor the polls on Sunday, citing the refusal by Russia to grant the necessary visas, causing fury in Moscow.
     Speaking in Budapest at a meeting of the World Political Forum, Mr Gorbachev called for the West to take Russia seriously as a partner. He said that Russia and the former Soviet Union had already made the biggest contribution towards building a new Europe. Former Eastern bloc countries such as Hungary and its neighbours are members of the European Union and Nato, thanks in part to decisions taken in Moscow 20 years ago.
     «The political and democratic reforms that were instituted in the Soviet Union changed the lives of 300 million people. We allowed the countries of the former Warsaw Pact to make their own choices. We never interfered in those countries and gave them free choice. We allowed Germany to be united and created the conditions to end the division of Europe. I reject attempts to declare victory in the Cold War and cherry-pick from history».
     Asked about the growing influence of Gazprom, the state-owned Russian energy company, across Europe, Mr Gorbachev said that there was nothing to worry about. «We want a good, sound, relationship with the West. We have no territorial or other claims. We will be a stable, reliable and serious partner».

By Adam LeBor.  The Times. 29.11. 2007