Although former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev says he is confident of acting President Vladimir Putin's commitment to democracy, he is pushing on with efforts to build a new union of social democratic parties and movements with a common approach to presidential elections, he told Echo Moscow Radio.
"I am sure all talk that he [Putin] will lead us to a dictatorship is groundless," Interfax quoted Gorbachev as telling the radio station.
Nevertheless, Gorbachev added, he did not know how Putin would attempt to solve Russia's problems. "I do not know what he will propose, but it seems to me he cannot avoid looking for ways to cover the crisis," he said, adding that Putin would "reveal himself after he is elected."
According to Gorbachev, Putin's strategy is to avoid declaring his plans before the election "to maintain support from all levels of society."
In a separate interview, Gorbachev told Interfax that his United Social-Democratic Party of Russia which aims to pool the efforts of the 12 already-existing social-democratic parties will hold its founding conference in Moscow on March 11.
In a bid to rally support for the new party, the former leader went to Tomsk early last week and held a conference with local social democrats, met with intellectuals, gave newspaper interviews and visited a mosque and an Orthodox church. He also appeared live on three local television channels.
"Many people think that the outcome of the elections is evident, and therefore the election campaign is settled," Gorbachev said, according to Interfax. "The Kremlin has reached its objective and derailed Fatherland-All Russia. Now it wants to carry on the presidential campaign on this wave."
"Many people are disappointed that [Fatherland-All Russia leader] Yevgeny Primakov decided against participating in the presidential race," Gorbachev said. "People are surprised that he gave in to the attacks of opponents during the cynical and shameless [Duma] election campaign."
Vladimir Akimov, a political analyst and until recently a political adviser to the Communist Party, said he believes the Gorbachev bloc created along with former Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov stands little chance of success in the near future. Its only hope, Akimov suggested, is if the Communist Party suffers a collapse
"The Napoleonic plans of the new Gorbachev-Popov social-democratic movement make real sense if an extremely poor showing by [Communist leader Gennady] Zyuganov in the [presidential] elections provokes a serious split in the left wing," he said.
"They [Gorbachev and Popov] will be able to walk in and scoop up the people who had formerly supported the Communists."
In the December State Duma lower house of parliament elections, the social-democrat bloc supported by Gorbachev took less than 1 percent of the vote.