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#14 - JRL 7038
Moscow Times
January 29, 2003
Discordant Yabloko
By Yulia Latynina

Sergei Ivanenko, a deputy to Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, announced last week that the party would not unite with the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, in the run-up to parliamentary elections later this year. Ivanenko colorfully likened the SPS to a "viral cell that lives by devouring healthy organs."

The announcement caught many by surprise. Yavlinsky, after all, had long maintained that unification was possible, though he insisted on such unrealistic conditions as the ouster of UES chief Anatoly Chubais from SPS. So when it came to a matter of utmost strategic importance for his party, why didn't Yavlinsky announce the change of position himself? What's more, uniting right-leaning parties would clearly benefit all involved. So why has Yabloko started calling SPS names? Once you know the background to Ivanenko's announcement, the change seems both logical and loathsome.

SPS has long been making noise about a unification of the right. The idea makes a lot of sense. If SPS and Yabloko combined forces, they could raise more money, use that money more effectively and, according to some estimates, win 100 seats or more in the State Duma.

Even if both parties clear the 5-percent hurdle required for representation in the Duma this year, four years from now, when the barrier rises to 7 percent, one or both will inevitably fall short. Uniting, in other words, is a matter of life and death for the right. At stake is the chance to create a meaningful democratic opposition in Russia.

All attempts up to now, however, have amounted to nothing but spin: SPS sincerely offered conditions favoring its own interests, and Yavlinsky countered with his own self-serving conditions.

Last week, both sides sat down at the negotiating table once more, and the talks proceeded in a fundamentally new direction. For starters, SPS put a thoroughly reasonable proposal on the table. Yavlinsky would be the democrats' single candidate for the presidency in 2004. Chubais, Yabloko's bugbear, would leave SPS. In the parliamentary campaign the unified party list first three would be: Boris Nemtsov, Yavlinsky and Irina Khakamada. Once in the Duma, the democratic bloc would dissolve into its constituent parts, and Yavlinsky would head his own faction.

Just as importantly, SPS didn't make this proposal on the evening news, but via a group of businessmen who have indicated their readiness to back a unified right party -- in particular, through Yabloko's exclusive patron, Yukos. This tactic ensured that the proposal was kept under wraps; oligarchs bear publicity about as well as vampires bear direct sunlight. For once this wasn't spin, but a strategic decision of the business elite that doesn't want to see parliament carved up between the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and the Communists.

Yavlinsky's reply, made to the party's patron in the seclusion of a country dacha: We will never join forces with SPS. This reply could be put down to the quirks of Yavlinsky's personality. In a way Yavlinsky is Russia's last dissident. Yabloko retains much of the old Soviet-era dissident flavor -- its leader's excessive ego, its utopian social policy, and its chronic inability to come to any sort of agreement. At first glance this might look like principled high-mindedness, but upon closer inspection it turns out to be nothing more than a refusal to return favors.

But Yavlinsky's political solipsism has coincided in a strange way with the Kremlin's strategy of fueling dissension among the Communists, the democrats, etc. As you may recall, shortly after the hostage crisis in Moscow last fall our normally tight-lipped president made a show of contrasting SPS' improper conduct with Yavlinsky's proper conduct. The signal was clear: SPS, which until then enjoyed close relations with the Kremlin, had become too popular; now Yabloko would be embraced instead.

Yabloko's financial backers were bowled over by the party's reaction. A top Yabloko official was overheard to say in a Duma corridor, "They're finding us new backers."

Yulia Latynina is host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.

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