Mikhail Gorbachev (Alexander Blotnitsky/AFP/Getty Images)

In an interview last month with The Washington Post, Gorbachev said Russia’s current leaders should not expect to maintain support forever and that “we must ensure that all democratic institutions really function, not as an imitation, as is now the case.”

It remains to be seen whether Gorbachev can emerge from his past and connect more widely with a new generation whose parents consider him a failure who destroyed the country. But his value to the protest movement perhaps lies in the symbolic message he might send to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who announced last fall that he intends to take back the presidency after being forced by term limits to take a break in 2008.

Demonstrators in 1991 stand on a Soviet tank, following a coup against President Mikhail Gorbachev. (Michael Evstafiev/AFP/Getty Images)