| BERLIN -- Yabloko leader Grigory
Yavlinsky told a Berlin audience that
March's presidential election is a sham and the country risks sliding toward
totalitarianism under the unchallenged grip of President Vladimir Putin.
Yavlinsky, speaking Thursday evening, said Russia has effectively
reverted to a Soviet-style one-party parliament after the December
elections. The pro-Kremlin United Russia party controls two-thirds of
in the State Duma, and Yavlinsky said the other three parties there were
indistinguishable from it on all major issues.
"Russia has no independent parliament any more," Yavlinsky
said in a
bleak lecture laced with dark humor.
He said the liberal camp, until now split between Yabloko and the
Union of Right Forces, would try now to regroup and unite before the next
parliamentary elections in four years.
He did not rule out the possibility that Putin will "keep the
open" and maintain at least some freedom of political debate.
But he also saw a risk that Russia would follow a "very tough,
totalitarian course," or create a kind of fake democracy with only
appearance of a free justice system, financial market and parliament.
"I think my country is very well qualified to make Potemkin villages,"
Yavlinsky said, referring to the courtier of Empress Catherine the Great
had elaborate fake villages constructed to impress her.
Yavlinsky ran in two previous presidential elections, in 1996 and
2000, even though he compared them Thursday to soccer matches in which
Kremlin side manipulated the goal posts and fielded vastly more players
But he said the absence of an independent legal system and influential
independent media meant there were no longer any kind of "rules of
and made it pointless for him to run against Putin again in March.
"I'm sending a signal that it's not acceptable," he said.
Putin faces nine potential challengers. One of them, Oleg Malyshkin,
is a former bodyguard for Vladimir Zhirinovsky put forward by Zhirinovsky's
ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party.
"I can hardly imagine that Mr. Putin is going to have a debate
the bodyguard of Mr. Zhirinovsky," Yavlinsky said.
State Duma elections
Presidential elections 2004