Boris Nemtsov, who heads the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS)
faction in the State Duma, said yesterday that SPS and Yabloko
might possibly put forward a single candidate in the 2004 presidential
elections and suggested that candidate could be Yabloko's leader,
Grigory Yavlinsky. In an interview with Yevgeny Kiselev's weekly
news analysis program Itogi--which, following Gazprom's hostile
takeover of NTV television earlier this month, now appears on
Boris Berezovsky's TV-6 channel--Nemtsov said that it would be
"complete stupidity and a crime before the country"
if the two groups failed to agree on a single candidate, who,
he said, should be selected through primaries. Nemtsov also said
that he voted for Yavlinsky in the 2000 presidential election
and that Yavlinsky as the joint SPS-Yabloko candidate was a "completely
realistic" possibility. According to Nemtsov, Yavlinsky views
the possibility of being such a candidate "with understanding"
but has not given a final answer as to whether he would accept
such a role (TV-6, April 29).
In response to Nemtsov's demarche, Kiselev said he found it difficult
to believe that SPS leaders, including Anatoly Chubais, Yegor
Gaidar and Irina Khakamada would agree to back Yabloko. This would
indeed be a surprise, given the long history of enmity between
Yavlinsky and some of the SPS leaders, particularly Chubais (see
the Fortnight in Review, April 27). There have been significant
differences between SPS and Yabloko on key issues. Yabloko, for
example, has unequivocally opposed the NTV takeover: Over the
weekend, for example, the party announced that it had gathered
from across the country 863,000 signatures in support of NTV's
ousted team of journalists and free speech (NTV.ru, April 28).
At the same time, Chubais and other SPS members, including Arkady
Murashov, head of the SPS chapter in Moscow, backed Gazprom's
takeover. Other SPS members, including Viktor Pokhmelkin, first
deputy head of its Duma faction, publicly took issue with Chubais
over his stance vis-a-vis Gazprom and NTV, while still other members,
including Nemtsov and Khakamada, took what might be called a "middle"
position, criticizing both Gazprom and NTV (Polit.ru, April 10;
see also the Monitor, April 6, 16).
Meanwhile, Chubais declared during an April 27 press conference
that the smaller parties which make up the SPS--including Russia's
Democratic Choice, the party which Yegor Gaidar founded and in
which Chubais is a top member--should be "completely destroyed,
liquidated" for the sake of a "radical consolidation
of the right-wing force." He also said that the consolidated
SPS should be headed by a single leader picked at a party congress,
not by a group of co-chairmen, as is currently the case. Such
plans are reportedly meeting opposition from officials in the
regional branches of Russia's Democratic Choice, who fear losing
their influence in a "consolidated" SPS.
A newspaper claimed last week that Gleb Pavlovsky, the controversial
political consultant and informal Kremlin adviser, is pushing
for Chubais to become SPS head so that he, Pavlovsky, can succeed
Chubais as SPS leader after Chubais' inevitable return to the
cabinet (Novye Izvestia, April 26).
Chubais, however, told the state's Ria-Novosti news agency that
has no intention of stepping down as head of United Energy Systems
(UES), Russia's electrical power grid, to head the SPS. Over the
weekend, a UES shareholders' meeting voted to scale back Chubais'
powers in the 51-percent state-owned company while strengthening
those of the government (Russian agencies, Bloomberg, April 28).
At the same time, there are reports that Nemtsov and Gaidar are
locked in a behind-the-scenes struggle to become the SPS leader
(Polit.ru, April 24, Obshchaya Gazeta, April 26).