Gorbachev slams Russia's ruling elite
Moscow - The last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, on Wednesday launched a stinging attack on Russia's ruling elite, claiming the Kremlin had banned him from setting up a political party.
In an interview with Novaya Gazeta newspaper ahead of his 80th birthday on March 2, Gorbachev said he wanted to set up a social democratic party but the Kremlin's chief ideologue Vladislav Surkov warned it would not be registered.
"With my friends, I have an idea to set up a party. When Surkov found out, he asked: 'Why do you need this? In any case, we are not going to register your party'," Gorbachev said.
Surkov, Kremlin first deputy chief of staff, is credited with creating the centralised power system that has marked Russia under the rule of Vladimir Putin as well as coining the phrase "sovereign democracy".
"I replied: We will create a movement," Gorbachev said. "And we created it. But a movement is not a party and does not take part in elections. We need to have a social democratic party that does not depend on the authorities."
He accused the ruling class in Russia of showing indifference to its people and also lashed out at billionaire Roman Abramovich who has built up his fortune while staying well away from politics.
Still shouldering blame
"They (the ruling classes) are rich and debauched. Their ideal is to be something close to Abramovich. I scorn this idea. I am ashamed of this rich debauchery. I am ashamed for us and the country."
Two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev remains a figure more admired in the West than in Russia, where many still blame him for triggering the collapse of a world power.
There is expected to be intense attention on his role in history as he gears up to mark his 80th birthday. Along with tycoon Alexander Lebedev, he is a part owner of the opposition Novaya Gazeta.
In the interview, Gorbachev complained that Russians were forgetting the achievements of his perestroika (rebuilding) and linked it to economic problems.
"Now they are forgetting what was done. They reduce perestroika to our problems, the empty shelves. But it was then that we created the (freedom) people enjoy now when they go to church, get visas, surf the net or buy newspapers," he said.
"And I forgot to mention - we avoided the catastrophe of a nuclear war. Now no one seems to particularly remember this."