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Elena Dikun, Anatoly Kostyukov

Yegor Versus Boris

Yegor Gaidar to challenge Boris Nemtsov for party leadership

Obschaya Gazeta, No. 17, April 2001, p. 7

Strictly speaking, there is one person in the SPS whose tacit supremacy must be acknowledged by all. But his name is Anatoly Chubais, and he's busy with more important things than the SPS leadership; he can't stop his activities, or the SPS would lose its main sponsor. Moreover, Chubais has never been interested in a career in public politics.

Ever since Sergei Kiriyenko became a presidential envoy, Boris Nemtsov has been the de facto leader of the SPS. However, the SPS does not have an official leader; its five co-chairs are nominally equal. No one else has expressed an interest in taking charge of the tedious work involved in becoming a political party; Nemtsov has been the only one of the SPS "stars" to tour the regions, sorting out local branches - and he is also responsible for consolidating the partnership with Yabloko. In short, it all looked as if Nemtsov would also be the leader of the new party.

It should be noted that Nemtsov had no objections. He only said that the leader of the SPS party would be a temporary manager, so there was no particular reason to aim for the leadership. It certainly didn't seem that anyone was burning to do it. However, in early April the SPS coordination council suddenly altered its previous stance on the division of power in the future party. According to the new version, it would be better to have three co-leaders rather than one leader. Everyone immediately saw that the triumvirate idea was a challenge to Nemtsov. Rumours that Nemtsov was being squeezed out received substantial confirmation: Yegor Gaidar announced his desire to lead the future party.

After Gaidar's statement, the smile disappeared from Nemtsov's face. He reportedly told his supporters the other day that under these circumstances, he and Irina Khakamada would even be prepared to form an alternative SPS. In other words, Nemtsov wants no part in any party led by Gaidar.

Nemtsov says that the trouble has been started by people who have been with Gaidar ever since the Democratic Russia days, and who constantly egg him on, assuring him that he and he alone can get the liberal masses to follow him. One of our analysts suggested that the presidential administration might be encouraging Gaidar; but Nemtsov firmly replied that the Kremlin has nothing to do with it - he knows this for a fact. Our source in the presidential administration was even more categorical: the president's team has enough on its plate without getting involved in the SPS's problems.

Right-wing veterans in Gaidar's Democratic Russia movement really don't like Nemtsov. They refer to him as a "playboy"; they consider him superficial, a lightweight. But it is most unlikely that these people, relatively few in number, could have pushed Gaidar into a public rift with the most popular of his colleagues.

Gaidar, the elder of the liberal-reformers, undoubtedly does have his own ambitions. But until now, Gaidar's ambitions have not spilled over into public politics. Gaidar only appears in the Duma occasionally, and has never aspired to head any committees; at one time he even considered resigning from parliament. He has never been interested in party work. Why has he suddenly come forward?

In theory, Gaidar could have been motivated by intra-party ideological disagreements - but Nemtsov hasn't added anything new to the conflicts which weaken the SPS from within. As usual, the right-wing forces are in a state about their relationship with the regime. Having set themselves the goal of exerting a "positive influence" on the president, they now argue themselves hoarse with every zig-zag in the regime's direction - should they change their position, isn't it time to think of their reputation, the purity of liberal ideas, etc.

The most recent bout of arguments was triggered by the NTV network conflict. Right-wing veterans from Gaidar's team proposed that the SPS should condemn the regime's use of force against the journalists. Anatoly Chubais, on the other hand, said something along the lines of "the journalists got what was coming to them". Nemtsov and Khakamada, trying to reconcile the opposites, took up a position of "armed neutrality" which satisfied neither side. Nemtsov's attempt to reconcile opinions about Chechnya within the SPS ended in similar confusion.

There is nothing strange about such differences of opinion. A political organisation which is neither influential enough to affect the president nor proud enough to do without his patronage is bound to be racked by a "servility complex". Under these circumstances, what difference would a change of leadership make?

To all intents and appearances, Gaidar has been asked to "save the day", as was the case in 1993. Now the situation has to be saved from Nemtsov - who, having acquired a taste for leadership and drawing closer to Yabloko, might gradually take the SPS into opposition. Although Kremlin officials say they don't care what is happening within the SPS, that's not true. According to our sources, Nemtsov and Chubais met President Putin at his country residence as recently as late March. They discussed the leader of the future party. Chubais named Nemtsov; Putin said, "I thought as much." Apparently, after this conversation Nemtsov decided that he was as good as elected already, and gave way to euphoria. And now - out of the blue - there's this announcement from Gaidar. Astonished SPS members rushed to Chubais for explanations. Chubais isn't usually given to diplomacy, but this time he avoided making any direct answers. He will have to make a choice at the congress.

If Chubais is washing his hands of this, any SPS member can figure out what this means: there's nothing Chubais can do. And that, in turn, means that the SPS's party-building project is on the brink of failure. True, Nemtsov's supporters are sure that at the congress on May 26 they'll have the numbers. It is also known that some prominent business leaders, SPS sponsors, have backed Nemtsov. While giving Gaidar, the "father of the reforms", his due, they consider that a party leader should appeal not only to party members, but to voters - and Gaidar is anything but the idol of the Russian masses. Neither is he a remotely suitable ally for Grigory Yavlinsky of Yabloko.

However, Gaidar's Democratic Choice of Russia party is the largest of the SPS's component organisations, and it will have the majority of delegates at the congress - so the congress of union could end in disunity. A complete failure is unlikely; some "healthy forces" will be found among the candidates at the last moment, to say that the SPS shouldn't develop a fixation with having one leader - it should retain the status quo. That is, the party should continue to have five co-leaders, and the SPS should essentially remain a coalition. Since such "five-headed" parties aren't really capable of managing themselves, it is all the more convenient to manage them from without. And that is the whole idea.

Obschaya Gazeta, No. 17, April 2001, p. 7