Gorbachev to use Berlin Wall festivities to 'defend Putin'

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is scheduled to take part in the festivities commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini) (AFP/File)

Moscow (AFP) - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Thursday he would seek to defend Vladimir Putin's policies when he travels to Germany for ceremonies commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall this week.

Gorbachev, who is praised for his decision not to use force to quell uprisings in Eastern Europe, allowing the Berlin Wall to fall, said that Washington did Moscow wrong and Putin was the best man for the job of protecting the country's interests.

This weekend Gorbachev, 83, is scheduled to take part in the festivities commemorating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, a potent symbol of the Cold War, amid a dramatic confrontation between Moscow and the West.

Gorbachev, whose "perestroika" and "glasnost" reforms helped pave the way to the Wall's fall, is set to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Joachim Gauck.

He will also greet crowds at the former Checkpoint Charlie border crossing.

In some of his most explicit comments endorsing Putin's policies, Gorbachev said he was convinced that the raging Ukraine crisis pitting Russia against the West provided an "excuse" for the United States to pick on Russia.

"Russia agreed to new relations, (and) created new cooperation structures. And everything would be great but not everyone in the United States liked it," he said in an interview with the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

"They have different plans, they need a different situation, one that would allow them to meddle everywhere. Whether it will be good or bad, they don't care," Gorbachev said, referring to Washington.

In his meetings with EU leaders and public figures Gorbachev said he would seek to protect Russia and its president.

"I am absolutely convinced that Putin protects Russia's interests better than anyone else."

The former Soviet leader acknowledged that Putin was not above criticism but he said he did not want to pick on the Russian strongman nor see others do so.

Many in Russia feel betrayed by the West.

Former top Soviet diplomats have told AFP that the reunification of Germany was allowed on the condition that the USSR would participate in the new European order and NATO would not expand to the east.

Western leaders from that period have rejected claims that they ever struck a deal with the Kremlin.

-'Strong leader'-

Moscow is locked in a confrontation with the West over its support for separatists in neighbouring Ukraine, with Washington and Brussels introducing several rounds of sanctions against Russia.

Putin has remained defiant in the face of the growing diplomatic isolation, proclaiming his country's moral superiority and seeking to ramp up ties with Asia and Latin America.

For a second year in a row, the Russian strongman has beaten Barack Obama to the title of world's most powerful leader as ranked by Forbes.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov chalked up attacks on the Russian president due to Putin's unwillingess to buckle under pressure from those who would like to see a more flexible Moscow.

"A strong leader who is able to rally around himself a significant part of society, a majority is of course not convenient for those who would prefer to deal with a double-jointed country, a double-jointed Russia which she is not," Peskov told Russian reporters.

He spoke after a report in the Wall Street Journal said US authorities were investigating Gennady Timchenko, a member of Putin's inner circle for money-laundering.