Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 29

Reports continue to circulate of large splits within the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) over the issue of whether to support Acting President Vladimir Putin both in the March 26 presidential vote and more generally. Many rank-in-file members of the parties and movements which joined SPS–Democratic Russia and Russia’s Democratic Choice, for example–are reportedly unhappy with Putin’s KGB past, his suspected authoritarian leanings, his insistence on a military solution to the Chechen problem and, more recently, his lack of reaction to the detention in Chechnya and subsequent disappearance of Radio Liberty correspondent Andrei Babitsky. Putin has received unequivocal support from one of SPS’s most powerful members, United Energy Systems chief Anatoly Chubais, while other members, including former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, have given Putin conditional backing.

Other SPS members, particularly veteran human rights activists such as Sergei Kovalev, who was the Kremlin’s human rights ombudsman and leading war critic during the 1994-1996 Chechen conflict, and Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the Movement for Human Rights and a co-chairman of the Democratic Russia movement, have openly come out against Putin. Both men were among the twenty human rights activists who signed an open letter to Putin, dated February 8, which denounced Babitsky’s detention and disappearance as “a violation of all existing international and Russian legal norms,” saying the incident showed that Russia “is ruled not by a dictatorship of law, but of Putin.” Ponomarev wrote today that SPS is on the verge of splitting over the issue of Putin and his authoritarian tendencies (Nezavisimaya gazeta, February 10). Some of the disgruntled SPS members are backing the presidential bid recently announced by Samara Governor Konstantin Titov, while others have thrown their support behind Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the rival liberal party Yabloko.

Another liberal from the early 1990s has weighed in with his view of Putin. In an interview published this week, former Finance Minister Boris Federov said: “As for his [Putin’s] ideology, without a doubt we know full well that there are few people with reformist ideas in the structure which goes by the name of the KGB. There can be more-or-less well-educated people there, many who lived in the West, who speak several languages, who love jazz, karate and other such things. But we know who was taken into that system, how they were vetted and the kind of strict hierarchy which exists there. Therefore it is simply naive to expect that a 47-year-old person from the organs is a fervent democrat in his convictions and a revolutionary in the economy. Of course, he is not ‘red’–this is, after all, a person of a different generation. He worked for a long time in Germany. In any case, he understands the West…. So he is probably more ‘pink’ than ‘red'” (Argumenty i Fakty, No. 6, February 2000).