Former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, who is blamed for causing the collapse of the Soviet Union, has announced he will be making a political comeback after almost 17 years. The questions are: Would it be his comeback only or also the comeback of the ideological party he once led? Would he still plead for glasnost and perestroika, his brainchild, in his society? Would he be able to do this all at the age of 80 years without his dynamic wife Raisa Gorbachev who died on September 20, 1999?
Now 77, he revealed that he and business partner Alexander Lebedev, a maverick ex-KGB officer-turned billionaire banker, would form a political party to contest Parliamentary elections in 2011. While Gorbachev has championed freedom of speech in a country where journalists are frequently harried or even killed for opposing the authorities, he has conspicuously avoided direct criticism of Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister. Yet he and former legislator Alexander Lebedev described the Independent Democratic Party of Russia, the working title of the new movement, as an Opposition group.
The Russian Parliament, the State Duma, has three Opposition parties but two are thought to be creations of the Kremlin. The third, the Communist Party, rarely opposes the government on issues of substance.
The Telegraph quoted Lebedev as saying that his party will be the "polite" Opposition, eschewing the firebrand tactics of former chess champion Garry Kasparov’s The Other Russia Movement, which was banned from contesting 2007’s Parliamentary elections. He, however, insisted that his party would not be a toothless cipher and would be prepared to criticise Putin when necessary.
With US President Ronald Reagan at the historic Geneva Summit in mid-1980s
Gorbachev and Lebedev, who is 48, have become close after taking over a 49 per cent stake in Novaya Gazeta, Russia’s last genuinely Opposition newspaper. Lebedev, a major private shareholder in the Russian airline Aeroflot, joined with Gorbachev in 2006 to buy 49 per cent of Novaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper that has challenged the Kremlin through its investigative reporting. Anna Politkovskaya, a prominent investigative reporter murdered in October 2006, worked for this newspaper.
Cheering the crowd with wife Raisa Gorbachev in their good days
How marketable the duo is to the Russian public, 88 per cent of whom approve of Putin according to opinion polls, is a matter for some doubt. Gorbachev is widely reviled in Russia for his role in the disintegration of the USSR. As a billionaire ranked the 358th richest man in the world in 2007 by Forbes Magazine, Lebedev belongs to the unpopular caste of oligarchs.