It’s time for Putin to go, says Gorbachev as he calls for fresh elections

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has rebuked the Russian government for taking the country back towards communism and said that Putin should quit and fresh elections brought in.

He was speaking ahead of the 20th anniversary of a hard-line coup in 1991 that briefly ousted him and precipitated the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The scathing attack came as Putin and Medvedev met this week for a fishing trip on the Volga River, taking time to adopt trademark tough-guy poses for the cameras.

Russia’s two top leaders are believed to be close to a decision on which of them will run for president, and the fishing trip on the Volga River formed part of a rare day-long private meeting.

The pair also went for a walk on the river bank in the Astrakhan region in southern Russia and went on a boat trip to take underwater pictures.

The meeting on the Volga was not announced in advance. Putin arrived from Moscow, where he was meeting his Belarussian counterpart on Monday, while Medvedev flew in from the Black Sea resort of Sochi where he is spending his summer holiday.

Gill seekers: Putin surely has bigger fish to fry, left, while Medvedev, right, also took time out to dress in a camouflaged wetsuit and take underwater pictures

One picture posted on the Kremlin website showed Medvedev posing in a wetsuit with an underwater camera, another holding a half-metre long pike fish with Putin in the background and a third in which he was steering a motorboat.

Putin, a keen fisherman who himself donned a wetsuit last week to dive at an underwater archaeological in the Black Sea, was captured struggling to take a much smaller fish off the hook.

Both Medvedev and Putin have hinted that one of them, but not both, will run in the March 2012 presidential election and are expected to make a decision soon.

However, Gorbachev thinks it’s time for Putin to step down. ‘I’m unhappy,’ he said.

He said Russia needs to restore direct elections of governors and of individual seats in parliament, which were abolished during Putin’s presidency.

‘Honest elections are needed: single-ballot elections, elections of governors,’ Gorbachev said. ‘People must have a feeling that something depends on them.’

He dismissed the Popular Front, an umbrella group of public organizations, professional associations and unions created with Putin’s blessing.

‘They invent some unnecessary groups, some fronts,’ Gorbachev said, adding that government spin doctors might just as well invent something like ’10 Putin Strikes’ – a sardonic reference to ’10 Stalin Strikes,’ a term used by Soviet propaganda to describe the Red Army’s offensives during World War II.

The front’s creation has been seen as an attempt by Putin to strengthen his support base ahead of parliamentary elections in December and a presidential vote in March.

Putin, who shifted into the prime minister’s job in 2008 because of a two-term constitutional limit, is widely expected to reclaim the presidency.

Later in the week he dropped in on the country’s biggest airshow, where he promised continued support for Russia’s aviation industry after overseeing more than $1billion (£600million) worth of deals.

Putin watched the first public flight of the fifth-generation T-50 fighter at the MAKS airshow outside Moscow, as well as flights of mid-size regional plane Sukhoi Superjet.

‘The state has supported and will support Russia’s aerospace industry. It is a strategic priority for us,’ Putin told officials and industry executives in a speech, stressing that the government invested $9.5billion in the industry in 2009-11.

Russia is pinning its hopes on the Superjet, a plane designed to compete with Embraer and Bombardier  and T-50 fighter, which will rival the F-22 ‘Raptor’ made by Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

Another Russian-made passenger aircraft, the MS-21, is due to be ready for delivery in 2017 and is intended to replace the country’s ageing TU-154 planes.

Putin’s government aims to diversify Russia’s economy away from energy, which represents about half of budget revenues, and is keen to develop technology-heavy sectors such as aerospace and the auto industry.

Putin is also keen to show the success of his government in replicating Soviet-era achievements in technology and defence ahead of a presidential election in March 2012 in which he says he may take part.


Russia welcomes Ahmadinejad as Iran president

Russia welcomed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Russia on Tuesday and said the disputed election was a domestic matter.

“The Iranian elections are the internal affair of Iran,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

“We welcome the fact that elections took place, we welcome the new president on Russian soil and see it as symbolic that he made his first visit to Russia. This allows hope for progress in bilateral relations,” Ryabkov said.