Gorbachev and Party to Back Putin, With Conditions

December 11, 2000 - 0:0
MOSCOW Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev said on Saturday his fledgling Social Democratic Party would support President Vladimir Putin's efforts to rebuild Russian society as long as he stuck to his declared principles.
Gorbachev, chairing the second congress of his party, pledged to work with other like-minded parties in promoting a "social democratic alternative", but said he opposed any "shop window" merger agreements with other parties.
He told 250 delegates from throughout Russia that his party backed Putin conditionally after a decade of instability and "adventurism" under Putin's predecessor, Boris Yeltsin.
"We Social Democrats support the president for the moment. But we are concerned about matters and need to maintain a dialog with him," Gorbachev said in a 45-minute address.
"We are concerned that his social development program is slow or perhaps doesn't exist at all. He has no team to work out a strategy, his feet and hands are tied. But he is trying to bring the country out of crisis." Gorbachev heads a foundation with a glittering Moscow headquarters and is in demand for speaking engagements abroad.
But his political fortunes at home have been in a tailspin since he resigned on Christmas 1991, less than three weeks after Yeltsin and the presidents of Ukraine and Belarus forged an agreement proclaiming the Soviet Union dead.
Gorbachev ran in the 1996 presidential election, in which Yeltsin was reelected, but won less than one percent of the vote. Voters jeered him, blaming him for the collapse of Soviet rule, their lost savings and a plunge in living standards.
Gorbachev also endorsed one of two social democratic parties competing in last year's parliamentary election, but it also finished with only a handful of votes.
He founded his United Russian Social Democratic Party last March and the current Congress was drawing up a declaration of principles.
But Russia's liberals remain badly divided, with about a dozen parties competing for votes.
Heads of rival liberal parties were among guests at the gathering wishing Gorbachev's party well.
He told reporters his party favored cooperation with others on key issues, like "guarding against dictatorship, racism or chauvinism".
But he ruled out any formal merger.
"Under no circumstances will we agree to any shop window sort of agreement. Let the people decide which political grouping they want to join.
Any sort of unification has to come from the bottom." He admitted the party still had a long road to haul.
"We are at the beginning of a long path. There is so much to be done to persuade people. And we have been working very badly." (Reuter)