In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Russia Service, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev criticized the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which he blamed for fraud in regional elections earlier this month.
Widespread allegations of serious violations prompted general outrage and calls to reform the country's authoritarian political system.
Gorbachev also discussed U.S. President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize and his own role in history. He spoke to RFE/RL correspondent Lyudmila Telen in the Moscow offices of his Gorbachev Foundation.
Hugely popular abroad, Gorbachev has long been widely disliked at home for bringing about the end of communism. He remained active in politics, co-founding the Social Democratic Party. But when he ran for president in 1996, he won less than 1 percent of the vote.
Since Putin's rise to power in 2000, Gorbachev has often been among the first to criticize new authoritarian measures in Russia, especially restrictions against the free press, independent politicians, and nongovernmental organizations. But he's been a consistently ardent supporter of the man many believe responsible for the country's direction: Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Gorbachev has generally supported the Kremlin's foreign policy. He staunchly criticized the policies of former U.S. President George W. Bush and has endorsed Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's call for a new European security pact. But he's been cautiously positive about President Barack Obama.
Gorbachev's supporters praise the fact that his views about the collapse of communism and its aftermath have remained remarkably consistent since he left office in 1991. But many believe Gorbachev's condemnation of the Russian political system can't be reconciled with his praise of Putin.