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NTV channel, "Apelsinoviy Sok" (Orange Juice) progamme, November 2, 2003

Interview with Grigory Yavlinsky

Anchor - Vladimir Solovyov

Anchor: The arrest of [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky and the searches at the [public relations] company Strategic Communications Agency (ASK), which led to the seizure of 700,000 dollars without an owner as well as files related to the activities of Yabloko, have dealt a severe blow to the oldest democratic party in Russia and its leader, Grigory Yavlinsky. Yavlinsky, being the good boxer he is, knows how to take blows.

Solovyov: Good morning, Grigory Alexeevich. Am I right to assume that the Yabloko party has no chance of being elected to the State Duma now, as its main financial artery has been severed?

The Yukos clamp-down was no surprise.

Yavlinsky: No, because elections to our country's State Duma, for the time being at least, are not that directly associated with money.

Solovyov: But surely the lack of money is bound to affect you?

Yavlinsky: Yes, of course, this is not exactly a present. However, generally speaking, we were not completely caught off guard by this turn of events. We had long suspected that something similar might happen.

Solovyov: Presumably you discussed with Khodorkovsky the seriousness of his situation and the need to prepare for the worst.

Yavlinsky: It had become clear that everything was serious after Platon Lebedev [the head of Menatep and one of Yukos's principal shareholders] was arrested. At that time we could see that this was no laughing matter.

In addition, we were well aware of the system used to organize elections and understood the system in place in our country. Consequently [Khodorkovsky's arrest] was not completely unexpected.

Over the past five years I have received more than 1,000 appeals concerning similar developments all over the country. Only in this case the people affected were not as famous as Khodorkovsky, and the companies affected did not rank as the world's fourth largest, either. But generally speaking, these developments have been affecting everybody starting with small companies such as pubs.

This is indicative of the existing system. Here we have seen a very graphic case of that system in action[Khodorkovsky's arrest].

Money seized from firm related to Yabloko

Solovyov: There has been ongoing speculation about the 700,000 dollars seized at the office of a company associated with the activities of Yabloko. Was the money brought in by secret services agents, or did that money actually belong to one of the following: Yukos; the company involved or your party?

Yavlinsky: I know for sure that unfortunately this money did not belong to our party. That I know for sure. I do not know if the money belonged to that company [Strategic Communications Agency] or Yukos.

Solovyov: But there was money, wasn't there?

Yavlinsky: The prosecutors have asserted that money was found and seized. And our deputies at the premises that, although they did not actually witness the seizure, there was money there.

Total media control

Solovyov: Do you experience pressure on you and your party?

Yavlinsky: Yes, the situation is more complicated now even than it was, say, in 1999.

Solovyov: What were the party's difficulties in 1999?

Yavlinsky: In 1999, the party was attacked for its stance on the war in Chechnya. That was an all-out attack by all the media. There were statements by the Union of Right Forces [SPS] that the Russian army was regaining its pride in Chechnya and that everybody who saw no need for a massive war in Chechnya was a traitor. Of course, that military hysteria was complicated.

Solovyov: You were saying that the situation is even more complicated today.

Yavlinsky: Now we can see total control over the mass media. In practice, TV and radio appearances have become very difficult and have to be coordinated in advance. Furthermore, I will tell you one totally unexpected thing.

Anchor: Please do.

Yavlinsky: All the political programmes broadcast today are pre-recorded. Can you imagine ?

Current developments at Yukos and Khodorkovsky only confirm what we are saying.

Solovyov: So are you being denied air time?

Yavlinsky: We are no exception here. Our party is not being treated in any special way. That is if we exclude the raid by the Prosecutor-General's Office on the office of the company [Strategic Communications Agency] that has been running our advertising campaign for more than a year. They seized our documents, the addresses of [regional] headquarters, addresses of our activists, our organizational charts and all the material that had been prepared. If we do not consider that something special, then ...... [sentence incomplete].

Solovyov: That is indeed unusual.

Yavlinsky: Yes that was unexpected, even though the prosecutor has promised to return all the documents and guarantee confidentiality.

Solovyov: But haven't you been threatened personally? As far as I can recall, all the elections, in which you have taken part, have posed a threat to you and your family.

Yavlinsky: In our country, any political activities become complicated, if they are purposeful and serious. In Russia, many Stalinist methods of government are still in use.

Yukos boss arrest unwarranted

Solovyov: If we turn to Khodorkovsky, we should not completely disregard the fact that Khodorkovsky suddenly earned 7.2bn dollars through methods that were far from lawful, even though they may have been formally legal at the time. But back then such people as Khodorkovsky were in a position to make laws suit their needs. Surely Khodorkovsky is one of the oligarchs and one of the pillars of the system?

Yavlinsky: I am defending Khodorkovsky now, because I do not see any grounds whatsoever for his imprisonment and I do not understand why he is in jail. I believe that he is not a killer, or at least I do not know of such facts. I believe that he poses no danger to society. I think that, if there are charges against him, it would be enough to make him sign an undertaking not to leave Moscow and then carry out the investigation. There is no need whatsoever to organize totally inadequate intimidation and shows for the whole country.

Solovyov: Yes, his name is Khodorkovsky and not [Chechen warlord Shamil] Basayev after all.

Yavlinsky: Yes indeed.

Putin unwilling to change the system

Solovyov: I have a different question. Maybe the current developments fit the traditional scheme of Russian history very nicely, as the revolution is devouring its children? Maybe now is the time to deal with the oligarchs?

Yavlinsky: All 30 oligarchs could be sent to Matrosskaya Tishina [Moscow remand centre, where Khodorkovsky is held]. Khodorkovsky's name could be replaced by that of Solovyev or Petrov. But that will not change anything.

Solovyov :So the system needs to be changed?

Yavlinsky: Of course. It will only degenerate, as talented people will be replaced by absolute nonentities. That is basically what is happening today.

Anchor:Yes, but changes in the system always begin by cutting off the hydra's heads. If we take this as the starting point, do you think that the latest steps by the president are indicative of changes in the system? He has accepted the resignation of Alexander Voloshin [Kremlin chief of staff], who was considered by everybody to be the main advocate of the oligarchs. Maybe that is signalling changes, as the president has deviated from classic Russian traditions and said: "I cannot interfere in the work of the courts and the Prosecutor-General's Office, as I have no right to do so". Maybe this shows that the system is becoming healthier?

Yavlinsky: No this is no way to do that. The reshuffle is logical, and there is nothing unexpected here.

Solovyov: Is the timing a coincidence - the arrest of Khodorkovsky and resignation of Voloshin?

Yavlinsky: I do not see anything supernatural. Still, the president is not revamping the system. He is not changing it. He is not implementing comprehensive and essential changes in the system.

Secondly, he is not taking decisions to pass laws to ensure transparent lobbying. He is not taking decisions on transparent and clear funding of political parties. He is not taking decisions on public television that would not be subordinate to anybody. He is not taking decisions on anti-corruption procedures in the formation of the government, the State Duma's corps of deputies and the administration. He is not taking decisions on political restrictions to prevent major oligarchs from interfering in the government's work.

Thirdly, there has been no underlying decision on a truly antimonopolist policy that would restrict the hungry interest groups that failed to lay their hands on state assets in the mid-1990s.

Solovyov: Let us take a simpler look at the situation. Has the influence of oligarchs increased or decreased during Putin's four years in power?

Yavlinsky: The roles have changed. Some oligarchic groups have stepped back, while other oligarchic groups have come forward.

Solovyov: So you cannot perceive any structural changes?

Yavlinsky: These large corporate groups have their representatives in all the structures. They feed them from their hands, while the latter take decisions favourable for them.

Solovyov: Whom do they feed?

Yavlinsky: Officials.

Liberal parties come closer in face of crisis

Anchor: Now that Yabloko is evidently going through a hard time, the SPS is the only party to come to your support. And your joint statement with [SPS leader] Boris Nemtsov seemed very bold.

Maybe now is an opportune time for an alliance between the democratic forces of the country, which are Yabloko and SPS, despite some fundamental differences between your parties.

Yavlinsky: This process is taking place to the extent that is necessary. Take our joint statement, for example. Our fundamental differences still exist, as you said. But now is not the right time to discuss them. The situation now is such that we need not discuss lingering differences.

Solovyov: Has President Vladimir Putin personally answered your call [an appeal to political parties to meet with Putin over the Yukos affair]?

Yavlinsky: No, he has not. If there is a meeting, I will discuss these essential issues with the president. As I just told you, I will tell him that these repressive measures will not take us anywhere and will not resolve a single problem. Therefore, it seems to me that efforts to resolve fundamental issues in the country are in this case counterproductive. That is an exceptionally serious issue.

I understand the wish to demonstrate the power of the state to the oligarchs. However, the state in this case does not look powerful, but bad. There is a big difference here. As you know, power commands respect, while violence only provokes hatred. That is why I would like our state to be really powerful and serve its citizens, instead of being bad to them and intimidating them.

Yabloko hopes to win seats in State Duma

Solovyov: Despite all these developments, you expect to win in the next State Duma election, don't you?

Yavlinsky: Yes, we know that our electorate will support us. We really need every vote. And the line of our party has been clearly defined. We are a party of citizens and a party of freedom.

Solovyov: A party of hesitant Russian intellectuals?

Yavlinsky: And intellectuals too and we are proud of this fact.

Yukos men on Yabloko list

Solovyov: Why aren't those people on your party's candidate list? Why does your party list include Yukos people for the first time in the party's history? Yabloko had always been absolutely independent in the past.

Yavlinsky: Yes, several people on our party list represent the oil major. That was Yukos's condition for funding our party. We accepted that condition. We believe that this open policy is right. We cannot earn that money ourselves, as the law does not allow us to do so.

Meanwhile, our party line - on decision-making and voting in the State Duma - does not depend on our financiers.

Yabloko presidential candidate

Solovyov: Grigory Alexeevich, will you take part in the presidential elections?

Yavlinsky: That is quite likely. Yabloko will take part in the presidential elections. We will determine the forms of that participation right after the State Duma elections.

Solovyov: What does that mean?

Yavlinsky: There will be a congress and the congress will decide for example, why don't we nominate you, for example, as presidential candidate?


See also:


NTV channel, "Apelsinoviy Sok" (Orange Juice) progamme, November 2, 2003

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