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The Moscow Times, September 9, 2003

Chubais Ready to Lead SPS Into Battle

By Francesca Mereu and Oksana Yablokova

Igor Tabakov / MT
SPS leader Boris Nemtsov addressing a party congress on Monday as fellow party co-founders Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais listen. Chubais is No. 3 on the party list.
Cockily defending his role in the 1990s privatizations and proclaiming himself ready for a new political fight, Anatoly Chubais burst back into politics on Monday as the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, kicked off its election campaign with great festivity.

Chubais, as expected, was formally given the third spot on the liberal, pro-business party's federal list, behind SPS leaders Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada. A co-founder of SPS, Chubais said he was able to return to politics because his "crisis management" of Russia's electricity monopoly was now behind him.

The SPS leaders did nothing to smooth over strained relations with the Yabloko party by announcing they would put up candidates to compete against it in key single-mandate constituencies. The two parties agreed earlier this year not to field candidates in the same constituencies in the Dec. 7 parliamentary elections, but both sides are now accusing the other of failing to honor the agreement.

In contrast to the Communists and Yabloko, which held rather modest party congresses over the weekend, SPS threw a lavish event in the new Moscow International House of Music for 1,400 party members and supporters. The congress had all the markings of a major theater premiere, with three dozen television cameras in the center of the hall, flowers decorating the stage and a standing ovation at the end.

It opened with a party song, "Russia, You Are Right!" written specially for the start of the campaign and played to accompany video clips of SPS-sponsored outdoor rock concerts and Khakamada and Nemtsov dancing clumsily on stage.

Chubais was the first to speak. Brimming with confidence, he said he was looking forward to the campaign.

"Now we have in front of us a political fight, or a good scrap. This is why I'm here and I agree to take part in it. I couldn't miss such an event. I cannot deny myself such pleasure," he said.

After trumpeting his performance as Unified Energy Systems chief, Chubais went on to defend his own and fellow SPS co-founder Yegor Gaidar's record in the government in the early 1990s.

"We are the people who get things done," Chubais said, drawing a standing ovation from the SPS delegates.

Igor Tabakov / MT
Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov sharing a light moment at the Union of Right Forces congress.

Chubais remains an unpopular figure for his role in engineering the privatizations of the mid-1990s in which state assets were snapped up by well-connected businessmen for a fraction of their value. But he also is seen as an efficient manager who has maintained close ties to the Kremlin.

He made no apologies Monday. "In all those years there were no reforms except ours, there were no ideas except ours. Yes, we carried out the privatizations. We started the reforms and it was us who announced the default [in 1998]."

Chubais said SPS decided not to play the opposition role, because it would mean opposing reforms that the party had backed.

When Nemtsov took the floor, he opted to speak less about the record of the liberal reformers in building a market economy and concentrated on current social hardships instead.

"What people care the most about in the country is not political life, but why in one of the richest countries there are 40 million poor people."

Nemtsov said that SPS has designed a program of social reforms that would all but eradicate poverty. "Usually our party does not care about these kind of things -- we leave it to the populist parties -- but in four years it is realistic to double pensions and wages," he said.

The SPS leaders then turned their attention to Yabloko. Chubais and Khakamada said Yabloko has fielded candidates in some of the single-mandate constituencies where high-profile SPS candidates planned to run.

In Moscow, Yabloko's Alexei Arbatov is to run against SPS's Vladimir Kara-Murza, and Yabloko's Sergei Mitrokhin against another SPS candidate. Khakamada is to face competition from a Yabloko candidate in a St. Petersburg single-mandate constituency where Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov also is running.

Mitrokhin blamed SPS for violating the agreement not to compete in the same single-mandate constituencies. "They were the first to put their candidates against Yabloko's candidates," he said Monday in a phone interview.

Hours after the congress ended, SPS press secretary Yelena Dikun said the party is ready to negotiate with Yabloko, Interfax reported.

Chubais reminded delegates of the party's failed efforts to forge an alliance with Yabloko. SPS proposed that Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky run as No. 2 on a joint list in the Duma elections, promising to support him in the 2004 presidential elections. Yavlinsky rejected the offer.

Chubais said SPS has enough money to wage its electoral battles. "Speaking about funding, we have no problem with that," he said, addressing the congress.

At a brief press conference during a break, he refused to give the sources of the funding. "We will publish them as required by law when the time comes," he said, visibly annoyed by the question.


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The Moscow Times, September 9, 2003

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