Vladimir Putin has "exhausted" his potential as Russia's leader, Mikhail Gorbachev said yesterday, warning that the Prime Minister's inability to change the political system might prompt further anti-government protests.
Mr Putin, who became Prime Minister after serving as President from 2000 to 2008, is almost certain to be appointed President again after the election on 4 March, despite opposition rallies that have been the largest protests in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"If he does not overcome himself, change the way things are – and I think it will be difficult for him to do that – then everything will end up on city squares," said Mr Gorbachev. "He won't carry that weight. By now he has exhausted himself."
Mr Gorbachev recently urged Mr Putin to give up power and annul the results of December's fraud-tainted parliamentary vote, which triggered the anti-Putin rallies. The thousands of protesters have also joined Kremlin critics in accusing the government of cracking down on dissent, limiting press freedom and breeding corruption. Mr Gorbachev led the Soviet Union from 1985 until its collapse in 1991. Still admired abroad but regarded as insignificant at home, his comments are unlikely to threaten Mr Putin's grip on power.
The Prime Minister, meanwhile, is striving to show he still has a vision of reforms. Yesterday, he came forward with suggestions of how to reduce one of Russia's biggest problems – corruption – and even made amends with businessmen involved in the unpopular privatisation of state enterprises in the 1990s. In an address to a business association, Mr Putin said he would like companies to work more closely with government on drafting laws and shaping policies.