Group of deputies wants Gorbachev investigated over Soviet break-up

MOSCOW Thu Apr 10, 2014 8:45am EDT

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev addresses students as he visits the International University in Moscow February 9, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev addresses students as he visits the International University in Moscow February 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Denis Sinyakov

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - A small group of lawmakers have asked Russia's top prosecutor to investigate whether the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, should face treason charges over his role in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Gorbachev dismissed the request as an act of publicity-seeking and said there were no grounds to charge him.

It follows a surge of patriotism since Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last month, which has revived nostalgia among some Russians for the Soviet Union and boosted President Vladimir Putin's popularity ratings.

The seven-page request for an investigation says Gorbachev and other senior Soviet officials violated the law and the will of the people by letting the republics that made up the Soviet Union declare independence and break away.

"As a result of these criminal actions, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a global superpower, was destroyed and ceased existing as a geopolitical reality," says the letter.

Signed by five lawmakers including two members of the United Russia party loyal to Putin, it was sent to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika on Wednesday.

The Prosecutor General's office declined comment but said it generally takes up to 10 days to decide whether to start an investigation.

Gorbachev is celebrated in the West for his policies of "perestroika" (restructuring) and glasnost" (openness) and not resorting to widespread use of force to hold the Soviet Union together.

But many Russians blame him for the superpower's collapse and some hanker for what they see as the relative stability of Soviet times.

"The catastrophic consequences have manifested themselves throughout the years since the collapse of the USSR, in Russia as well as on the territory of the (other) former Soviet republics," the lawmakers wrote, describing the crisis in Ukraine as among the consequences.

The 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate said: "Such calls only reflect how certain lawmakers seek their own PR and like being talked about, but the request is completely ill-considered and absolutely unjustified from the point of view of historic facts."

Gorbachev has repeatedly criticized Putin and his treatment of political dissent, saying Russia needs a new system of governance.

He also co-publishes an independent newspaper that is critical of the Kremlin.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage and John Stonestreet)

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