A slew of recent laws that critics claim are intended to crack down on dissent indicate that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “afraid of his own people”, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has said.
“I am astonished by the amount of laws,” Gorbachev, 82, told BBC.
“The common thread running through all of them is an attack on the rights of citizens.”
Putin has recently signed laws significantly increasing fines for violations of regulations on protests, widening the definition of treason, recriminalising libel, and introducing internet censorship.
Mass protests against alleged electoral fraud in favour of Putin’s United Russia party at the December 2011 parliamentary elections gave birth to a broad coalition of groups opposed to the former KGB man’s 13-year rule as prime minister and president.
A number of protest figures have since been jailed or are facing criminal charges.
Putin denies, however, that a crackdown is underway, saying last year that “everyone” must obey Russia’s laws.
“You shouldn’t be afraid of your own people,” Gorbachev said.
“What people want and expect their president to do is to restore an open, direct dialogue with them. He shouldn’t take offence at this.”
Gorbachev, whose regime led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, also hit out at Putin’s inner circle.
“Even the inner circle, those by his side, there are so many thieves and corrupt officials there. If things don’t change, Russia will continue to drift like a piece of ice in the Arctic Ocean,” he said.
The former Soviet leader revealed he had not spoken to Putin for over a year and that relations between the two have “soured”.
“I’ve criticised him a lot in public. He sometimes loses his temper. Once he said that ‘Gorbachev’s tongue should be cut short’.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had not seen the BBC interview and declined to comment on the accusations when contacted by RIA Novosti.