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Yabloko bloc gets lift from alliance.

By EKATERINA LARINA , The Russia Journal

Semptember 6, 1999


Stepashin worth 20%, expert says





The recently formed alliance of Sergei Stepashin and

Grigory Yavlinsky may be a

rare case of a political

Yavlinsky's integrity and Stepashin's charisma could be a potent combination.

compromise in which the

gains for those involved greatly outweigh the concessions, pollsters, analysts and politicians say.

And according to some experts, their success in December's Duma elections will lie not in their identifying with one another, but in drawing a distinction between themselves.

Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy head of VTSIOM (Russian public opinion research center), explained that in order to maximize Stepashin as an asset, Yabloko needs to actively promote his broad popular appeal.

"Their electorates partially coincide. But the differences give the Stepashin-Yavlinsky axis an opportunity to increase Yabloko's ratings by nearly 20 percent," Grazhdankin said.

"The critical issue is for them not to assimilate Stepashin into Yabloko, but to underline the fact that this is a union and try to broaden Yabloko's image by combining Yavlinsky's integrity with Stepashin's charisma."

Former first deputy of the presidential administration, Oleg Sysuyev, in an interview with The Russia Journal, agreed that the duo could give impetus to Russia's democratic forces. But he believes Yavlinsky needs to shed his image as a "perennial oppositionist."

"They might give new breath to democracy in Russia, but only if Grigory Alexeyevich [Yavlinsky] can discard his reputation as a constant critic," Sysuyev said. "Nothing much has been expected of him other than blistering attacks on the activities of those in power. Meanwhile, he himself does nothing."

Yavlinsky and his party clearly recognize they have to refashion their appeal in order to grow. The leader of the Moscow youth Yabloko organization, Andrei Sharomov, said that, overall, Yabloko sees the new alliance as a real success.

"It destroys the myth of our intractability," he argued. According to Shamarov, it was Stepashin who approached Yavlinsky for a pact.

A source close to the former prime minister agreed that this may have been the case.

"Following his inexplicable dismissal after less than a hundred days as prime minister, Stepashin was very upset with all the king's men [the presidential entourage]," the source said. "It was clear from that moment that Stepashin had to look for an alliance, so he surveyed the landscape, and Yabloko seemed to him the most logical option.

"It is difficult to say exactly why he didn't go to the right wing; perhaps he was turned off by their strong links to the presidential entourage that had so recently betrayed him. So he chose a liberal party, but one opposed to the Kremlin."

Andrei Piontkovsky, of the Center for Strategic Studies, said Stepashin's decision could be interpreted in two ways. On one hand, it ended the last hopes of unifying Russia's right-wing liberals. But on the other, it has allowed the creation of a much more powerful and influential democratic movement than Right Cause could ever have been.

"People who sympathize with [former Prime Minister Yegor] Gaidar will now say: 'Why waste our votes on people with no real chance when we can vote for Yabloko,'" Piontkovsky said. "So despite the right having been fragmented by Stepashin's rejection, Yabloko now has a leading position among liberal forces."

Piontkovsky is sure that Stepashin has also made a good deal - having secured a solid base for his political future.

But Yavlinsky is believed to have battled to assure his comrades that the alliance would not be a betrayal of their principles.

Sharomov admits there was serious discontent inside Yabloko when the deal was first announced. The party has been one of President Boris Yeltsin's fiercest critics, going so far as to initiate charges of impeachment against him.

"Of course, there was a section of the party that saw Stepashin as a staunch Yeltsin ally, which was anathema to them," he said. "But the majority has seen it as positive."

According to Sharomov, one of the most serious clouds hanging over the Stepashin-Yavlisnky union was Stepashin's role in the Chechen war, which Yabloko bitterly opposed.

"We can't pretend that there was no skepticism about Stepashin. One can say that he has already publicly recanted [over Chechnya], but he is still far from a real public apology."

Piontkovsky believes Stepashin-Yavlinsky has greater potential than the Otechestvo-Vsya Rossiya axis of ex-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov - a grouping now seen as the favorite in the Duma elections.

He argues that Stepashin and Yavlinsky are more potent because of their relative youth and powerful reputation for honesty.

"To me, Primakov has now discredited himself by giving his name to Otechestvo, which has already had several charges of corruption leveled against it."