LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The leader of Russia's liberal opposition,
Grigory Yavlinsky, says political freedom of speech in the country
is dead following last month's closure of its only independent
nationwide television station. "Freedom of speech is finished
-- in a political sense," Yavlinsky told Reuters in an interview
Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko party and a Russian presidential
candidate, said the closure of the TV6 channel by the Russian
government on January 22 was another episode in the tough censorship
of television since April last year.
Discussion of allegations such as corruption of the military
in Chechnya as well as criticism of the government were on a "stop
list". Issues including nuclear waste and ecological problems
in Russia were similarly excluded.
He said he felt censored himself. "There's no access to
the major state channels. There was with NTV," he said. Last
year state dominated gas monopoly Gazprom took over NTV, the country's
biggest independent television broadcaster. Yavlinsky said Russian
monopolies such as Gazprom and natural power utility UES needed
reform. "They must be transparent, accountable, not black
boxes. Nobody knows what is the amount of assets, the structure
of assets. Nobody knows where the profits are moving. "I
don't see the end of the oligarchs," he said, of Russia's
REFORM FOR WTO TOO SLOW
A trained economist, he thought reform of the banking sector
was also moving very slowly, with Russia needing to be much more
energetic to meet the criteria for entering the World Trade Organisation
"We must get more competitive in a lot of industries, improve
the quality of products and of management, and decrease the cost
of products dramatically, otherwise they will not be competitive."
He said there needed to be tax and land reform, while corruption
was also a major problem. Although he was against the death penalty,
with public debate on the issue heating up, he said there was
support for it among the Russian people as the level of criminality
was so high. "We have to diminish bureaucracy. Bureaucracy
is corruption, is criminality," he said. WTO chief Mike Moore
told Reuters in January that he believed Russia could become a
member by early summer 2003, with Russian President Vladimir Putin
very engaged on the issue. Putin enjoys approval ratings of over
70 percent, winning over parties that often opposed his predecessor
Boris Yeltsin after just two years in power.
Yavlinsky, married with two sons and who at 49 is the same age
as Putin, finds it hard to be in opposition. "Hard doesn't
mean impossible. Everything good in Russia is hard."
SUPPORT FOR FOREIGN POLICY
Yavlinsky said he was systemically opposed to Putin's domestic
policy, partly opposed to his economic policies, but really supportive
of foreign policy after September 11. Backing the U.S.'s "war
on terrorism" was the only possible solution, he said, although
critics say Putin will have trouble maintaining pro-Western policies
for little in return. "It's protecting Russia's future --
not being an ally with the U.S. and the EU would undermine security,"
"It's not a question of bargaining, gifts or presents.
Russia said it's not accepting terrorism as a way of doing things."
Putin defended his decision to back the U.S. in an interview on
Russian television on Monday, saying their cooperation was the
most important factor for stability in the world.
On the war in Chechnya between Russian troops and Islamic rebels,
Yavlinsky said sooner or later Russia had to organise a round
table with all parties, with political negotiations the only basis
for a solution.
the original at www.reuters.com
of Speech and Media Law in Russia