Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in comments published on his 80th birthday, accused Russia's leaders of rolling back democracy and advised Vladimir Putin not to return to the presidency next year.
"Vladimir Vladimirovich (Putin) has already served two terms, and one more as prime minister. I would not run for president if I were in his place," Gorbachev said in an interview in the weekly Argumenty i Fakty on Wednesday.
A year before a presidential election in which Prime Minister Putin has hinted he will run himself or endorse President Dmitry Medvedev for a second term, Gorbachev said that he likes both members of Russia's ruling "tandem" as people.
"But both of them must understand: their time is limited," said Gorbachev, whose 1980s reforms eased decades of oppression in the Soviet Union but hastened the Cold War superpower's breakup in 1991.
After eight years as president, Putin steered Medvedev into the Kremlin in 2008, when the consitition barred him from seeking a third straight term. He is technically subordinate to Medvedev, but is widely seen as Russia's paramount leader.
If Putin returns to the presidency after the March 2012 election, he could then run for another six-year term in 2018.
"People ... do not want to be a mass, a flock led for decades by the same shepherds," Gorbachev said.
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