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Gorbachev Chides Putin on Submarine

September 7, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ Looking relaxed, Mikhail Gorbachev joked that he could only take one question at a time because he is 69. He then launched into a warts-and-all assessment of Vladimir Putin, criticizing the Russian president’s ``mistakes of style.″

Among Putin’s missteps, Gorbachev said Wednesday, was waiting four days to comment on the Kursk submarine tragedy and failing to interrupt his vacation until a week after the sea disaster that killed all 118 seamen aboard.

Gorbachev, who himself was criticized for waiting several days before commenting on the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station on April 26, 1986, said Putin’s initial response to the Kursk’s sinking was ``inadequate.″

``He made a mistake,″ the former Soviet leader said.

Gorbachev, who set the Soviet Union on the road to democracy, also said Putin failed to explain to the people his economic policies and legislative reforms to bolster governors as the dominant leaders in Russia’s regions.

The former leader said he had pointed out these missteps to Putin. An aide said Gorbachev met several times with Putin, with one meeting lasting three hours.

Gorbachev said earlier that the loss of the Kursk was part of an ``acute August crisis″ that also included a bombing at Moscow’s Pushkin Square that killed 12 people and a fire that roared through Moscow’s giant TV tower, leaving three people dead.

``The cause of the crisis was that the authorities showed a lack of understanding of the need for informing the people _ of glasnost,″ said Gorbachev, using the Russian word for ``openness″ that characterized his six years as the last Soviet communist president.

But Gorbachev, who was in New York to launch a Foundation for the Development of Democracy and World Peace, said Putin’s errors were ``mostly mistakes of style″ and that the leader was sensitive to criticism and ``recovered quickly.″

``We need to support the president ... despite the mistakes,″ Gorbachev said.

He praised the Russian press for insisting authorities give the facts about the crippled submarine, but bristled at what he said was the Western press’s ``lumping″ of his handling of the Chernobyl explosion and Putin’s slow response to the loss of the Kursk. ``The coverage in the West smacked of the Cold War,″ he said.

Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize for his policies that effectively ended the Cold War. He resigned on Dec. 25, 1991, when the Soviet Union broke up, and was succeeded by Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin stepped down at the end of 1999 and was replaced by Putin.

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