MOSCOW — Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and last president of the Soviet Union, now 82 and increasingly frail, may have needed a helping hand to climb on stage for a speech at the state-run RIA-Novosti news agency. Oratorically, however, he seemed nimble enough, delivering a sharp poke in the gut to President Vladimir V. Putin and the Kremlin.
“Politics is more and more turning into an imitation,” Gorbachev said. “All power is in the hands of the executive. The Parliament only seals its decisions. Judicial power is not independent. The economy is monopolized, hooked to the oil and gas needle. Entrepreneurs’ initiative is curbed, small and medium businesses face huge barriers.”
Gorbachev, invoking “perestroika” — the Russian word for “restructuring” and the brand name of his reforms that brought about the fall of communism and helped him win the Nobel Peace Prize — called for yet another renewal of the Russian political system.
His prepared speech, posted later on the Internet, was even tougher than the remarks he delivered. In it, he wrote that by curtailing freedoms and tightening restrictions on civil society groups and the press, Putin had adopted “a ruinous and hopeless path.”
Unlike in the West, where he is still revered for his role in ending the Cold War, Gorbachev has largely faded into insignificance in Russia. He is remembered far more for the chaos and deprivation of the 1990s that followed him than for delivering the citizens of the Soviet Union from tyranny.
Nonetheless, his speech, made Saturday as he briefly ventured from a Moscow hospital where he is undergoing a lengthy checkup, quickly drew angry and dismissive responses from the Kremlin.
“We have had enough restructuring,” said Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry S. Peskov.
Sergei Neverov, the deputy speaker of the lower house of Parliament and a leader of United Russia, the party that nominated Putin for president, said, “Mikhail Sergeyevich has already been the initiator of one perestroika, and as a result we lost the country.”
Alexei Pushkov, a member of United Russia and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the lower house, rejected Gorbachev’s objections by criticizing Gorbachev. “The cost of a painful process, the cost of huge losses from a major transformation of our country has already occurred,” Pushkov told the Interfax news agency.