In recent months, various prominent public figures, including at least one close associate of President Vladimir V. Putin, have insisted that Russia officially proclaim Mikhail S. Gorbachev a criminal for abetting the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Some regularly demand that Mr. Gorbachev be put on trial for the events, not least, as one member of Parliament member put it, to expose the operations of a “fifth column” within Russia.
Yet when the organizers of Mr. Gorbachev’s 85th birthday extravaganza in March approached the landmark Hotel Ukraine about a banquet, its owners refused payment after they learned that it was the former leader being honored.
“They said that without Gorbachev they would have ended up as small merchants in the market, criminals dealing in contraband,” said Alexei Venediktov, a close friend and the editor in chief of the radio station Echo of Moscow, the main news outlet for liberal Russians. “They said: ‘Now we are the owners of all this thanks to Gorbachev! Not a kopeck!’”
In an interview, Mr. Gorbachev shrugged off the fact that 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he remains among the most reviled men in Russia. “It is freedom of expression,” he said….