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    Yeltsin was an ill Ö tsar; Putin is a young tsarevich
    Interview with Yabloko faction coordinator Sergei Ivanenko.
    By Ekaterina Larina, The Russia Journal Vol.3, No.15
    April 24-30, 2000,

    Sergei Ivanenko is coordinator of the Yabloko faction in the State Duma and right-hand-man to the party's leader, Grigory Yavlinsky.

    Ivanenko was a member of the Russian delegation at the recent Council of Europe session that voted to suspend Russiaís membership, but unlike the majority of the delegation, he did not protest the councilís decision. A subsequent resolution passed by the State Duma lower house of parliament confirmed the delegation's majority stance.

    Sergei Ivanenko told The Russia Journal about the Yabloko factionís position on this issue, the factionís plans and his personal views on Russian politics.

    RJ: As one of the leaders of the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, how do you view the Dumaís statement?

    SI: The statement essentially comes down to two main points. First, we [the Duma] fully approve the activity of our delegation in Strasbourg; second, we are giving the Parliamentary Assembly an ultimatum in threatening not to participate further in its work if it doesnít review its decision. As for the details, the text has changed substantially since Monday [April 10] when I saw the first draft. It has become less aggressive and more diplomatic, more balanced. But the essence remains the same. That is why Yabloko is the only faction that voted against it. To approve it would have meant condemning those who "split" from the others Ė Sergei Kovalyov, the Yabloko deputies, myself and [Alexander] Shishlov. For me, itís surprising then to see SPS [Union of Right Forces] essentially support the resolution, thus going against its own members. Only four SPS members voted against the resolution.

    RJ: Who is the author of the resolution?

    SI: This kind of resolution is drawn up by a committee, so the author in this case was [Chairman of the International Affairs Committee Dmitry] Rogozin. Then, it underwent substantial change. Yabloko took the hardest line, but other factions were not all that supportive, either.

    RJ: So itís not just European parliamentarians who can be accused of being too emotional?

    SI: Weíre open about it; weíre used to telling the truth. Others think it, but try to save face, while our argument goes, "If we sent this delegation, we have to approve their work, otherwise weíre just whipping ourselves." Thereís a logic there, but we shouldnít have sent such a delegation in the first place. We were opposed to appointing [Dmitry] Rogozin both as International Affairs Committee chairman and as head of the delegation. I was also nominated, Otechestvo proposed me, SPS supported me, but the KPRF [Communist Party], Yedinstvo [Unity] and [Vladimir] Zhirinovsky got together and blocked me. They are responsible for what happened in Strasbourg. Now, of course, they donít want to admit it, though I think they realize their friends did a lot of stupid things in Strasbourg.

    RJ: You were there. Why do you think events took such a turn there?

    SI: The Parliamentary Assembly is really no different from the Duma. Work goes on there in the corridors, in conversations, committee meetings and at dinners. From the beginning, it seemed to me that most of our delegation was in an aggressive and blackmailing mood. I donít know exactly what the main mistake was, which speech was the turning point; but the European parliamentarians went from being ready to examine all our proposals to finding themselves in a situation where they were being bullied and blackmailed.

    RJ: What about Vladimir Putin? Is he still an incomprehensible figure?

    SI: To me, Putin also represents the oligarchic-nomeklatura form of capitalism. In that sense, his actions and potential policies are comprehensible. But I think Putin has a range of possibilities; heís a pragmatic man and that kind of person can move within a very broad spectrum. A lot depends not so much on the individual in power, but on the real forces in society that can influence power. The stronger the coalition, the greater the opportunities for influencing Putin. Iím almost certain that Putin could modify his policies to take into consideration the influence of public forces. Putin already takes into account Yablokoís influence, even though we only have 17 deputies in the Duma.

    RJ: Who has real influence on Putin at the moment?

    SI: No one party. Putinís entourage is like a court; Putin is the same as Yeltsin, only younger. Itís still a Byzantine court Ė in favor today, in disgrace tomorrow. But Iím not a specialist in all that and canít tell you who has the right to just open the door without knocking.

    RJ: If you have a court, you need a tsar. Yeltsin was a tsar, but Putin?

    SI: Putin has the same powers as Yeltsin. Thereís the same struggle to gain access to him, the right to influence him. The only difference is that Yeltsin was an ill but imposing tsar, while Putin is still a young tsarevich.

    RJ: This court was formed under Yeltsin. Putin has come into an already existing system. Can he and, if so, will he change it?

    SI: I donít think that Putin can or even will want to change a Byzantine system that appoints say, two enemies so they can fight with each other, or divides officials into favorites and those in disgrace. As for who will have influence, look at Alexander Korzhakov. He was Yeltsinís personal bodyguard, but he had enormous power. Who will be next Ė maybe Putinís cook?

    RJ: What immediate plans does Yabloko have?

    SI: We still need to seriously analyze the election results, carry out reforms in our party, increase our supporters and get results in local and regional elections. We have to increase our influence on the government, public opinion and the media.

    RJ: Many say the problem is that the only name in Yabloko is Yavlinsky.

    SI: I donít agree. Look at the KPRF. Their only well-known figure is [Gennady] Zyuganov. But you have to have a leader. You canít have 5,000 party members on TV every day. We do want to attract new supporters; young people, talented, hard-working people. Weíre talking about a coalition to combine our potential with that of other parties, and with governors, for example.

    RJ: Election results showed that you are losing supporters.

    SI: We havenít lost supporters, but I think the problem is weíre not gaining them. We need good organizers to help us gain support.

    RJ: How real is the danger of a police state in Russia?

    SI: Itís a real danger. We wonít go back to communism, but we could turn to a totalitarian system. The poorer the country, the more aggressive the people, the more real that danger becomes. The economy is the key here.

    RJ: Will the influence of the military in Russian life grow under Putin, who clearly has a better relationship with them than Yeltsin did?

    SI: Half the Duma has been in uniform; it makes no difference. We have a regime of nomenklatura capitalism Ė bureaucrats, secret services and oligarchs. The military is maybe an issue in Argentina or Peru, where it has huge privileges, authority and power. But the military has never had such a unique role in Russia. Secret services have though.

    RJ: Is it significant that Putin comes from the secret services?

    SI: I think so; it shows a preoccupying trend. One illustration is our procedural code that dates from 1964. Under this code, you can hold someone in prison while awaiting trial for two years; he gets tuberculosis, gets let out, no trial happens and no one bears any responsibility. Many cases never make it to court. We're working at the moment on a new code. Of course, miracles wonít happen. For all to be normal in Russia, we would need normal laws, civil control over the secret services, uncorrupt ministers and an independent press. Weíre going to fight to defend NTV, for example. We canít let the state monopolize something as important as television.

    RJ: Does the state want to do this?

    SI: The authorities want monopoly in general, absolute power, and our job is to make sure this doesnít happen. Whether we will have the strength for that is another question. The outcome depends on who will help us Ė whether other parties and the media will help us.


    ei Stepashin on Grigory Yavlinsky's proposals