Yegor K. Ligachev, once the second-most-powerful man in the Kremlin, on Wednesday called his former boss and comrade, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, a coward and a traitor.
"I met many Communists who spent decades in labor camps in the permafrost zone but retained their faith in the party," the erstwhile Politburo hard-liner said. "I fail to understand its general secretary who spent three days in the best health resort the country has by the warm sea, then called for its dissolution."
Ligachev, as straight-talking and opinionated as ever, met with journalists to present his book "The Gorbachev Riddle," a personal chronicle of the perestroika years he helped to shape before the Soviet president and party leader gave him the boot in August, 1990.
The book presentation, attended by a standing-room-only audience in the Moscow House of Journalists, served as a forum for Ligachev, 71, to reiterate his views and credo.
"When life proved me wrong, I did change my perceptions," he said with quiet dignity, "but I never changed my principles. Unlike Gorbachev, I still adhere to socialism, and I still think this is the future for my country." The white-haired native of Siberia said his only desire is to reunite the nation, introduce peace and stability and build a "new, refurbished Soviet Union."
A foe of both Gorbachev and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, Ligachev contended that his country is in danger of becoming a "raw materials supplier and semi-colony" for the capitalist world as the Russian leadership presses on with its economic reforms.
"The ban on the Communist Party, an organization uniting about 20 million members, cannot but diminish the chances for a peaceful resolution of the country's current political, economic and social crisis," Ligachev said, referring to a ban that Yeltsin ordered last Nov. 6.
Few questions during the presentation ceremony concerned Ligachev's 303-page book itself; instead, many people sought out his view of recent political developments.
The most persistent question put to Ligachev was why none of the former leaders of the Communist Party had volunteered to defend it at hearings on its record ordered for July by the Constitutional Court of Russia.
Asserting that it is Gorbachev who is legally obligated to take on this task, Ligachev said that the party "had been betrayed by its general secretary" and that it is now up to "ordinary Communists" to defend the party's 73-year record in leading the Soviet Union.
Ligachev, who became a voting, or full, member of the ruling party Politburo in 1985, the same year Gorbachev came to power, remains the only publicly active figure from the defunct body who voices support for his old principles.
Others, such as former Vice President Gennady I. Yanayev, are now in prison for their roles in last August's unsuccessful attempt at overthrowing Gorbachev when he was on vacation at a Crimean beach resort.