#12 - JRL 7167
April 28, 2003
AN EXCHANGE OF RIGHT FORCES
Anatoly Chubais is seeking a replacement for Boris Nemtsov
Author: Arina Chivonivtil
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THERE COULD SOON BE SOME SIGNIFICANT LEADERSHIP CHANGES IN THE UNION OF RIGHT FORCES. ANATOLY CHUBAIS, WHO ESSENTIALLY DIRECTS THE PARTY AND IS ITS CHIEF SPONSOR, HAS BEEN EXTREMELY DISSATISFIED IN RECENT MONTHS WITH THE PERFORMANCE OF THE PARTY'S PUBLIC LEADER, BORIS NEMTSOV. NEMTSOV MIGHT SOON FIND HIMSELF REPLACED BY SERGEI KIRIENKO.
According to a source close to Anatoly Chubais, head of Russian Joint Energy Systems (RJES), there could soon be some significant leadership changes in the Union of Right Forces (URF). Chubais, who essentially directs the party and is its chief sponsor, has been extremely dissatisfied in recent months with the performance of the URF's public leader, Boris Nemtsov.
This is not about the frequent episodes of carousing and revelry which are periodically reported by the tabloids. The main problem, and one which Chubais is inclined to attribute to Nemtsov specifically, is that the URF is experiencing a crisis in organization, ideology, and personnel.
By the start of this year, the popularity rating of the URF had dropped to the level of a statistical margin of error. Not even the millions spent on advertising and other PR efforts could remedy the situation. A mass exodus of leaders had begun even earlier. The late Yushenkov, Golovlev, Pokhmelkin, and Rybkin had quit the URF long ago. In 2002, this process continued - with the departure of Platonov, speaker of the Moscow municipal legislature, and many others; by April 2003, the URF had lost not only its treasurer, Yanbukhtin, but also Likhachev, head of Lenenergo, the Leningrad region's electrical power utility. Given the iron discipline among RJES executives, the latter departure was especially significant.
Chubais is primarily inclined to blame Nemtsov for the party's problems. Nemtsov, the arrogant "provincial", forgot the terms on which his party had been formed in 1999 - and chose to engage in direct confrontation with the Kremlin. Naturally enough, Chubais doesn't want that kind of confrontation. He's interested in the URF as an effective lobbying tool, which by definition should not be opposed to the Kremlin. However, Nemtsov's behavior is causing the URF to become less popular, and thus less influential. In the Kremlin, where the URF is still viewed (from old habit) as one of the Kremlin's own supplementary political resources, there has been talk since last autumn of possibly "shutting down" this party, which has clearly exhausted its capacities and could be written off as "a one-time campaign project".
What's more, in his drive to become independent from Chubais, Nemtsov is indicating that he's prepared to look at offers from alternative investors. He's formed especially close contacts with Boris Berezovsky in London. Such maneuvers can please neither Chubais nor the Kremlin; Nemtsov is drawing more and more displeasure. It is said that those at the top are prepared to make Nemtsov an offer he can't refuse, even before the elections. He could be given a diplomatic post in Asia. In exchange for the Kremlin's neutrality towards the URF, Chubais would be required to find a more worthy candidate to become the party's public leader.
This resulted in a series of secret meetings, involving Chubais himself, at which there was discussion of who might be a suitable candidate to replace Nemtsov. The most likely person to lead the URF into the elections is Sergei Kirienko. When Kirienko was appointed presidential envoy for the Trans-Volga federal district, he suspended his membership of the URF. Kirienko is both sufficiently loyal to the Kremlin and acceptable to Chubais: judging by his brief tenure as prime minister, which ended with the default of 1998, Kirienko is considered a perfectly controllable politician. Moreover, there have been repeated media reports to the effect that Kirienko has "grown tired" of being a presidential envoy, and has long been requesting a transfer back to Moscow.
However, there is no guarantee that Kirienko would accept Chubais's offer: given the URF's low voter support and the Kremlin's ambivalence towards the party, Kirienko may choose to avoid taking such a risk. If he does refuse, Chubais would have to either accept Nemtsov's behavior and forget about reviving the URF - or call in someone who has never been associated with the URF before, since no suitable candidates remain within the party.
(Translated by Arina Yevtikhova)