Question: You have always advocated reform of the
natural monopolies. But now that the relevant draft laws are being
debated in the Duma, you have joined the Communists in criticizing
them. Somehow, this doesn't seem to be in keeping with your liberal
For a good cause, isn't it worth making some concessions, if
this not a matter of principle?
Yavlinsky: So the "why"
of the reforms isn't important - what's important is that there
should be reforms. Is that what you're trying to say? We have
seen these kinds of reforms before: voucher privatization and
loans-for-shares auctions. These "good causes" resulted
in a contraction of Russian industry by over 50%, and established
the foundation for an ultra-monopolized and corrupt market. And
the reforms proposed today represent a continuation of that type
This is not a transparent and comprehensible privatization process;
this involves handing out the most efficient parts of the electricity
sector to a narrow range of people. This has nothing to do with
the creation of a competitive environment, or demonopolization.
On the contrary, the oligarchs are boosting their control over
the economy, and gathering the regions into their hands.
Question: In that case, might it not
be better to leave everything as it is in Russian United Energy
Systems (RAO UES)? After all, given the present government and
RAO UES management, RAO UES can hardly expect to win substantial
Yavlinsky: As part of the trilateral
commission we set out our proposals for the best way of implementing
reforms. However, these proposals have not been discussed since
The advocates of the current reform plan are simply incapable
of grasping such intellectual challenges, as they lack the requisite
skills. On the other hand, their underlying interest is to preserve
the original version of the reform plan. They aim to distribute
between themselves these assets, thereby guaranteeing themselves
boundless revenues that are not subject to any oversight.
How have the advocates of these reforms tamed the regional leaders?
By promising them a piece of the action. How have they persuaded
Cabinet ministers? By using the same methods. The nomenclatura
is winning. The national economy and all other Russian citizens
are losing. The market has already delivered an objective assessment
of such a reform plan: since the start of the year, the overall
Russian share price index has risen by 28%, while the RAO UES
share price has fallen by 50%. What more can we say?
Question: Perhaps RAO UES executives
are deliberately "driving down" the company's share
price, so that it will be easier to buy it up?
Yavlinsky: If they deliberately set
out to devalue RAO UES by USD6 billion over two years, the executives
of this state-owned company ought to be sent to... You know where.
Immediately. That qualifies as misappropriation of state property.
Question: The Union of Right-Wing
Forces (SPS) holds a different viewpoint to your party on the
RAO UES reforms. Could this turn out to be an insurmountable barrier
to bringing the two parties closer together?
Yavlinsky: The RAO UES situation confirmed
that a number of SPS leaders are fundamentally unacceptable to
us. As long as they remain members of the SPS, there can be no
talk of any substantial cooperation. These people are not concerned
with liberal democracy at all. They represent the corrupt oligarchic
trend in Russia, and they are trying to exploit the SPS as a political
cover for that trend.
Question: But can you still discuss
nominating a single presidential candidate, and coordinating candidates
in single-mandate districts at the Duma elections?
Yavlinsky: In single-mandate districts,
on an individual basis - yes. To nominate a single presidential
candidate, however, you have to develop first and foremost a common
policy platform. It should be based on clear answers to some key
questions, including housing and utilities reforms, and electricity
Question: Does that mean you're categorically
rejecting SPS leader Boris Nemtsov's plan to nominate a single
Yavlinsky: That plan is his plan.
We aren't even discussing it.
However, at the next Democratic Congress, we will dicuss a common
policy platform with all the democratic parties and public organizations.
Question: How deep are the differences
in your views on military reforms? The SPS's plan to reduce compulsory
military service to six months seems more realistic than your
plan to abolish conscription entirely.
Yavlinsky: But we consider six months
to be unrealistic. Young men don't want to serve in the military
for two years or six months. Six months is more than enough time
to get wounded. Whether consciously or not, by promoting its plan,
the SPS is helping to devalue the military reforms.
The generals say: six months isn't enough time to train new
conscripts, and we'll have to call up a lot more. So you end up
being caught between a rock and a hard place. What we need is
military reform as state policy, not some isolated experiment
The government ought to introduce a whole range of incentives
to make young men enlist for contract service in the military.
Many people in Russia honestly wish to serve their country - provided
that the relevant minimal requirements are in place.
Question: You have toned down your
criticism of the Kremlin lately. Are you starting to approve of
Yavlinsky: Yes indeed. Yabloko actively
supported the President in his foreign policy turnaround after
September 11. Putin has achieved a great deal, in terms of Russia's
position in the world. Regarding domestic politics and the economy
- here we remain a democratic opposition.
Question: But the foreign policy situation
isn't entirely clear as yet. Putin's proposal on Russia's inclusion
in the Schengen zone is obviously calculated to draw a rejection;
and the government is sending its "hawks" as diplomats
to negotiate with the Europeans on the Kaliningrad issue.
Yavlinsky: The statement about visa-free
entry to Europe is entirely correct and realistic. It also offers
a solution to the Kaliningrad problem. But visa-free travel and
the Schengen zone are two separate issues. Use of these issues
together says something about the level of our political elite.
It is up to the President to decide on the diplomats himself.
He chooses people who suit him. I don't like those people. But
he uses them as he sees fit.
Question: What about the President's
ultimatum to Georgia?
Yavlinsky: The one that ended with
embraces in Moldova? Once again, this reflects the President's
style. I wouldn't make such statements. But the President saw
fit to adopt such a tone when addressing President Shevardnadze
of Georgia. That's his business. What's important are the practical
results. The correct decision was made: that Russian and Georgian
law enforcement agencies would cooperate, and that the opponents
of Russia's constitutional order hiding out in Georgia would be
extradited to Russia.
Question: Has your position on Chechnya
itself changed substantially?
Yavlinsky: It hasn't changed at all.
A senseless, bloody war continues there, with no end in sight.
We still consider that the problem cannot be resolved using these
methods. The Russia-Georgia border isn't the key issue here; it's
simply one fairly insignificant incident in the greater war.
Question: Some political consultants
are proposing that the Kremlin should set up a new right-wing
party, using the same methods it used to create Unity; and then
sweep Yabloko and the SPS from the political stage, for being
incompetent and unethical.
Yavlinsky: I don't discuss absurdities.
Question: Very well then - what do
you think about the idea of increasing the percentage threshold
of votes required for political parties to enter the Duma?
Yavlinsky: This is yet another test
of public opinion: how will the public react to another move aimed
at restricting democracy? The mouthpieces for such ideas are rather
inconsequential people, who are eager to curry favor with those
Between Russia and Georgia
State Duma Elections