Who lost the Soviet Union's empire?

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MOSCOW -- Still radiant over their annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, some members of Russia's parliament are more nostalgic than ever for the Soviet Union -- and on the prowl for someone to blame for its loss. Why not 83-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev?

Five deputies of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, have asked the nation's prosecutor general to investigate Mr. Gorbachev, who was president of the Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1991, and bring him to account, Russian news media reported Thursday.

Many Russians -- especially the older and poorer -- have long harbored wistful feelings about their Soviet past. But the acquisition of Crimea has begun to change the national narrative, whetting the appetite for restoration of empire among the well-educated and informed.

Yevgeny Fyodorov, a Duma deputy who belongs to the dominant United Russia party, told the Izvestia newspaper that the end of the Soviet Union had been a troublesome but unexamined issue for 23 years. The situation in Ukraine, he said, meant that the effects of the Soviet demise could no longer be ignored -- a reference to Moscow's assertions that Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine are under threat. An investigation, he said, would shed light on "fifth columns" at work today.

"And, finally, this will give an impetus to national liberation movements on the territory of the former Soviet Union," Mr. Fyodorov said.

Mr. Gorbachev, a hero in the West for allowing the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall, has not been so loved at home, with many people here holding him responsible for the loss of empire. But talk of prosecution was more than the former president, who has had periodic health problems, was prepared to tolerate. He called Novaya Gazeta, a liberal newspaper he has helped support financially, and offered caustic comment Thursday on the investigation request.

"Since all problems in Russia have apparently been solved, only one little case remains," he said. "That is to jail Gorbachev."

There is little likelihood that Mr. Gorbachev will be prosecuted. President Vladimir Putin has shown scant interest in the idea of going after former presidents.

Still, the deputies' demand tapped into a not-insignificant national sentiment. In a survey published by the independent Levada polling center in January, 86 percent of respondents older than 55 regretted the Soviet Union's collapse; 37 percent of those ages 25 to 39 did so.

Mr. Gorbachev had other thoughts. He suggested reminding the deputies of the not-so-halcyon past by putting them on a train to Magadan, a particularly desolate part of the Gulag in Soviet times. "We can take them at dawn," he said, in a reference to Soviet repression, "without trial or investigation."


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