March 19th 2011

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Taxpayers to help subsidise UN's $100 billion climate fund

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Greens give marching orders to Julia Gillard

NEW ZEALAND: Questions about Christchurch earthquake

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Elton John and the new stolen generation

DRUGS: Latest push to promote needle/syringe programs

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Mondragón worker co-ops ride out global slump

UNITED STATES: How the recession has hurt working-class men

MIDDLE EAST I: Misunderstanding the events rocking the Middle East

MIDDLE EAST II: Are Western diplomats up to the job?

RUSSIA: Gorbachev slams 'rich and debauched' elite

UNITED KINGDOM: British High Court's assault on Christianity

EUTHANASIA: What must patients do to avoid being killed?

OBITUARY: Abortionist who became pro-life crusader: Bernard Nathanson (1926-2011)

OPINION: Politicisation of our public service

Howard left federal Budget in surplus (letter)

National investment fund (letter)

Bob Brown's machinations (letter)

BOOK REVIEW: COURTING DISASTER: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack, by Marc A. Thiessen

BOOK REVIEW: THE STORY OF ENGLISH: How the English Language Conquered the World, by Philip Gooden

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Gorbachev slams 'rich and debauched' elite

by Joseph Poprzeczny

News Weekly, March 19, 2011
Russia is being ruled by a "rich and debauched" elite, according to the man who ruled the Soviet Union before its break-up 21 years ago.

According to former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the main culprit for his country's failure to democratise and prosper is Vladimir Putin, Russia's current prime minister and former president.

Gorbachev said Russia desperately needed true democracy, but was being denied it.

He said Putin and his protégé, President Dmitry Medvedev, were wrong to say they would decide between themselves who should run for the presidency in Russia's March 2012 election.

"I don't like it. I don't like how they behave. This is not for Putin to decide. It's for the voters," Gorbachev said.

"It is very immoderate when Putin says: 'We will decide with Medvedev who will be running for President.' This is incredible self-conceit."

Many observers of Russia's post-communist "crony-capitalist" new order expect Putin to reclaim the presidency in 2012 and retain power until 2024.

Gorbachev also disclosed that he'd intended a political come-back but was told he was wasting his time because any attempt to register a supporting party would fail.

In an interview with Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper he helped establish and partly owns, Gorbachev said he had hoped to found a Western-style social democratic party but the Kremlin's chief ideologue, Vladislav Surkov, warned against the move.

Gorbachev said: "With my friends, I have an idea to set up a party. When Mr Surkov found out, he asked: 'Why do you need this? In any case, we are not going to register your party'."

Surkov, the Kremlin's first deputy chief-of-staff, is chief architect of the Putin-devised centralist power system that oversees all political institutions.

Gorbachev replied: "We will create a movement." He went on to say: "And we created it. But a movement is not a party and does not take part in elections. We need to have a social democratic party that does not depend on the authorities."

Gorbachev also accused Putin's ruling elite of a lack of interest in Russia's struggling workforce and denounced flamboyant Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, who has built up a huge fortune via insider deals and keeping clear of politics.

Said Gorbachev: "They (the ruling classes) are rich and debauched. Their ideal is to be something close to Abramovich.

"I scorn this idea. I am ashamed of this rich debauchery. I am ashamed for us and the country."

Abramovich owns England's premier Chelsea Football Club. He is the fourth richest person in Russia, and the 50th richest in the world. His fortune was estimated in 2010 by Forbes magazine to have reached US$11.2 billion.

His career contrasts with oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was jailed in 2005 for fraud and tax evasion following moves to become involved in Russia's post-Soviet era politics.

In December, his 2005 jail term was extended to 2017, meaning he's been removed from likely political involvement during most of Russia's next presidential term, whether or not Putin is the incumbent.

However, another Russian business identity has surfaced to condemn Putin for corruption.

According to the Washington Post's leading international affairs correspondent, David Ignatius, a billion dollar Italian-style palace is being built for Putin on the shore of the Black Sea.

"And most amazing of all, according to a Russian whistleblower named Sergey Kolesnikov, it was predominantly paid for with money donated by Russian businessmen for the use of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin," Ignatius reported.

"The funds have come 'mainly through a combination of corruption, bribery and theft,' charges Kolesnikov, a businessman who until November 2009 worked for one of the companies he alleges was investing money for Putin.

"Kolesnikov lays out the story of this 21st-century czar's palace - and the secret funding network that is paying for it - in a remarkable open letter to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev."

This letter was delivered a few days before Christmas last year to the Russian United Nations Mission in New York, and a full English translation is available online at

Writes Ignatius: "It's one of the most detailed allegations I've seen of the links between Putin and Russia's 'crony capitalism'."

Kolesnikov says: "The corruption is pervasive, and it is disgraceful and crippling for our great country," and cites a recent Transparency International study claiming that corruption, overall, totals $250 to $300 billion annually.

He has called on Medvedev to "show to our entire nation that everyone is equal before the law, even prime ministers".

Ignatius has reported that a spokesman for Putin declined to comment.

But one Russian source speculated to Ignatius that the Black Sea palace may be used by Putin to entertain guests during the 2014 Winter Olympics in nearby Sochi.

Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based historian and writer.



"Gorbachev slams Putin in interview, calls him worst version of communists", FOX News, March 5, 2009.

David Ignatius, "Sergey Kolesnikov's tale of palatial corruption, Russian style", Washington Post, December 23, 2010.

"Roman Abramovich symbolises 'rich debauchery' that has plagued corrupt Russia, claims former leader Mikhail Gorbachev", Daily Mail (UK), February 16, 2011.

Dmitry Muratov and Alexei Venediktov, "Mikhail Gorbachev: 'I, too, could have reigned to my heart's content, but free and fair elections are more important than holding on to the throne'", Novoya Gazeta (Moscow), February 17, 2011.

"Mikhail Gorbachev attacks Roman Abramovich's 'rich debauchery'", The Telegraph (UK), February 17, 2011.

Amanda Walker, "Gorbachev slams Putin's election 'conceit'", Sky News, February 21, 2011.

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