LONDON – JUNE 06: Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (L) leaves Downing Street with Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev after meeting with Gordon Brown on June 6, 2008 in London, England.
Former Soviet leader joins forces with businessman to campaign for legal and economic reform
By Sadie Gray
The former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, is to launch a new political party with a Russian billionaire, Alexander Lebedev.
Lebedev, a businessman and banker whose company, National Reserve Corps, controls more than 30% of the Russian national carrier, Aeroflot, announced the launch today and said the party would campaign for legal and economic reform.
Other policies are a stronger role for parliament, “less state capitalism” and the expansion of Russia’s independent media.
Lebedev and Gorbachev between them own 49% of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which employed the reporter Anna Politkovskya, a fierce critic of the Kremlin who was reknowned for exposing human rights abuses in the Chechen conflict. Her death in October 2006 was said to bear the hallmarks of a contract killing.
“I would call the new party project undoubtedly nonconformist, with one simple thought: We cannot develop further as a country without independent political institutions,” Lebedev told the Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti.
Lebedev, a former state duma deputy who describes himself on his blog as a “capitalist-idealist”, said Gorbachev was the driving force behind the new group, which has provisionally been named the Independent Democratic party.
“He gave our people freedom but we just can’t learn how to use it,” wrote Lebedev on his website.
Lebedev said there would be “no extremists” among the party’s prospective membership. He suggested that economists and members of the right-wing SPS party, which played a role in Russia’s transition to a market economy, would be welcome to join.
He said he would not bankroll the party, but that it would be financed by “non-state sources”.
Gorbachev, 77, won the 1990 Nobel peace prize for allowing the previous year’s largely peaceful revolutions across the eastern bloc, which saw the fall of communism in Europe.
But he became deeply unpopular at home as the break-up of the Soviet Union led to economic and political chaos, and when he last ran for president in 1996, he won only 0.5% of the vote.
The party will contest elections, although Mikhail Kuznetsov, the deputy chairman of Gorbachev’s political organisation, the Union of Social Democrats, said winning seats in the state duma, currently dominated by the Russia’s four biggest parties, was not the objective.
“Mikhail Sergeyevich (Gorbachev) is not striving to take seats in parliament, he is going to establish an independent democratic party and its task will be to let young people find fulfilment in new politics,” he said.
Gorbachev has in the past criticised many of the electoral practices of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, but has stopped short of personally attacking Putin, the former president who is now prime minister.
Gorbachev also backed Russia’s role in last month’s war with Georgia, which was widely condemned by the west.
Putin has been accused in the west and by Russian liberals of stifling free expression and the development of multi-party democracy.