Former Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev has launched a strong defence of under-pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming that he prevented the country from disintegrating in the chaos that followed the collapse of the USSR.
Speaking in Moscow at the launch of his new memoir After the Kremlin, Gorbachev credited Putin's leadership with preventing the break-up of the country when the former KGB agent took over from Gorbachev's successor, Boris Yeltsin, in 1999.
When Putin took office Russia had just defaulted on its debt, and the once mighty Red Army had been beaten by Chechnya.
Many Russians credit Putin with reviving the country's fortunes, but he now faces one of the biggest crises of his presidency, with falling oil prices and international sanctions causing the devaluing the ruble.
"I think all of us – Russian citizens – must remember that [Putin] saved Russia from the beginning of a collapse," Gorbachev said, reports RIA Novosti.
"A lot of the regions did not recognise our constitution. There were over a hundred local constitutional variations from that of the Russian constitution," RIA Novosti quoted Gorbachev as saying on Friday (26 December).
He said that he knew Putin before he took office, and described him as having good judgement and discipline.
He expressed his belief that Russia would emerge from its current economic crisis, but added that the question is "when and at what price."
"Now we need to be very careful in politics – what policy is implemented, by who, and who stands to benefit?"
Gorbachev's years in office were characterised by a thawing in relations with the West, however the Ukraine crisis has caused the relations between Russia and the West sink to their lowest ebb since the Cold War.
Russia's annexation of Crimea following the overthrow of the pro-Moscow Ukrainian government drew condemnation from the West, and resulted in economic sanctions being imposed by the US and EU.
Gorbachev backed Putin's claims that Russia was only acting to defend ethnic Russians in annexing Crimea, and urged a peaceful solution.
"All of us are concerned by what is happening in Ukraine – politicians and the public. And the fact that our government is supporting the people who are in trouble there, no matter how hard things are at home, it is what always distinguished us," he said.