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Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 11, 2002

Yavlisnky's Credo: Against Corruption in the Union of Right-Wing Forces and for Putin

Interview with Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party
by Maxim Glikin

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 image.

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 of reform.

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 concessions.

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 then.

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 reforms.

Question: Does that mean you're categorically rejecting SPS leader Boris Nemtsov's plan to nominate a single presidential candidate?

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 in Pskov.

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 Putin's actions?

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 in power.

See also:
Energy Secotor Reform
Relationships Between Russia and Georgia
State Duma Elections 2003

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, October 11, 2002

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