It's not every day former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev takes the same stage as actress Mia Farrow and basketball star Shaquille O'Neal. But that's just what the Nobel Peace Prize laureate did Thursday at a youth empowerment event known as We Day.
Mr. Gorbachev, speaking through an interpreter, told 18,000 students how growing up during the Second World War shaped his life and quest for peace. He said the world still faces a number of challenges – economic, environmental, military, among them. But despite his claim the state of the world is "10 minutes to midnight," he urged the students to never despair and expressed faith in the leaders they would become. He received a standing ovation. Mr. Gorbachev later spoke with reporters.
On former Russian leader Vladimir Putin's plan to again run for the presidency in 2012:
"I think that this is a plan that he's very close to fulfilling. But, to be perfectly honest, I think that we also have to bear in mind that opinion polls show that his authority and his support have gone down somewhat. I think that within the next few weeks and months things will become clearer. I think the parliamentary election campaign will make things clearer.
"You know that I have expressed my opinion on a number of occasions that I would have preferred Putin to move on. I think that he has been the leader of the country for quite a few years and during that long time, of course, certain things accumulate. But, to be honest with you, we do have quite a few people in Russia who want Putin to continue, who want Putin to be elected president. So this is a turbulent time in Russia."
On U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election campaign:
"I noted the statement by President Obama. He said that he definitely will run but he is not 100 per cent sure that he will win. I was a little surprised that he said that. My own impression is that he has shown his ability and I think that the American people could give him their trust for a second term. But it's for the American people to decide."
On the Occupy Wall Street protests:
"I respect that. They are protesting within their constitutional rights. The constitution of your country, the constitution of our country, the constitutions of all democratic countries contain democratic rights, including the right to protest. In Russia, we know that there are people, including people in government, who don't like it when people protest in the streets and when they present their demands by demonstrating. And sometimes there are even bad consequences and even clashes as a result.
"We have to be wary, though, of certain extremist elements who are trying to turn these just demands and just protests in a certain direction to exploit those movements. Nevertheless, those elements are an exception. People today are more confident when they act; they are more confident of the rightness of their demands and their actions."