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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gorbachev Criticizes Putin on Benefits

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has added his voice to those criticizing President Vladimir Putin's policies, lambasting the government's bungled benefits reform and warning that efforts to strengthen the president's power base are curbing democratic freedoms.

In an interview to Nezavisimaya Gazeta published Friday, Gorbachev warned that Putin is losing the popular support that has sustained him through the five years of his presidency.

"During his first term, some stability came to the country and social progress was made. Certain control was established over the activities of governmental bodies. I expected that Putin would use his second term to move forward, mainly to develop economic and social policy in the interests of the people. However, what has started now worries me a lot. I can see a deviation from what he promised," Gorbachev said.

Gorbachev remains one of the most highly regarded Russian politicians in the West, but his political influence inside Russia is minimal.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta interview is the second time in recent months Gorbachev has publicly attacked Putin's policies in the Russian media.

Last September he opposed plans to scrap popular elections of governors and individual State Duma elections in an interview published by Moskovskiye Novosti, and he called for the plans to be dropped, saying they would be a step back from democracy.

The scrapping of gubernatorial elections came into force Jan. 1, while the bill abolishing individual elections to the Duma was approved in a first reading in December and is likely to pass into law during the current parliament session.

In his latest remarks, Gorbachev said he still supported Putin, but warned him against becoming too authoritarian.

Gorbachev reserved his harshest criticism for the government's handling of the law on monetization of Soviet-style benefits, which came into force Jan. 1.

The law triggered a wave of nationwide protests by pensioners against the loss of a range of benefits, including free transport rides, which were replaced by meager cash payments.

"Monetization [of benefits] has shown how indifferently and cynically the authorities are dealing with pensioners," Gorbachev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, adding that the Cabinet had failed to even calculate how the reform would affect benefits recipients.

He said the government should avoid being so "thoughtless" in pushing through planned reforms in healthcare and education.

Gorbachev also criticized what he called the "chaotic reorganization" of the government.

"Bureaucrats just sit and wait until they are fired or downsized and do not understand what they should be doing," he said.

Alexei Makarkin, a political analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, said that Gorbachev's criticism is unlikely to be heard in the Kremlin and could more likely be for Western consumption.

"Gorbachev has long been a moderate supporter of Putin, and the fact that he has joined the ranks of resolute critics of Putin's policies will signal to the West that crisis tendencies are growing in Russia," Makarkin said.