As Election Day approaches, new fissures have appeared along the right flank of Russian politics. Two leaders of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, announced yesterday that they were heading out to Russian regions in order to campaign on behalf of Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the rival Yabloko party. Their decision followed a call by Yavlinsky to form “a powerful democratic coalition that will resist the creeping spread of the absolutist, totalitarian and criminal trends in Russia.” Yavlinsky emphasized that he would not insist on leading such a coalition. Earlier this week, Yavlinsky was given a small boost when another minor presidential candidate, Yevgeny Savostyanov, announced during a discussion program on NTV television that he was pulling out of the race and backing the Yabloko leader.
However, other SPS leaders–including the most influential ones–reacted more coolly to Yavlinsky’s appeal. SPS leader Sergei Kirienko said that while the formation of a wide right-of-center coalition was necessary, Yavlinsky’s appeal smacked of “campaign populism.” Another key SPS leader, United Energy Systems head Anatoly Chubais, said that he welcomed Yavlinsky’s call to “consolidate the right-liberal forces,” adding that he hoped it was not simply an election-related move. Chubais, however, noted the SPS’s coordinating council and State Duma faction had already endorsed Putin. Last year, Chubais called Yavlinsky a “traitor” for advocating a cease-fire in the Chechen war (see the Monitor, November 22, 1999).
Meanwhile, Yegor Gaidar, another SPS leader, announced yesterday that the political council of his own party, Russia’s Democratic Choice, had voted yesterday to endorse Putin. Gaidar called that decision one of the most difficult the party has had to face and said it was the correct one, given that, in his view, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who is running a distant second to Putin in the polls, has “serious chances” to win. Gaidar said that he would vote for Putin but would not urge others to do so. Russia’s Democratic Choice is one of the parties and movements making up the SPS. For his part, Yavlinsky yesterday called Putin “a hidden communist who conducts politics by Soviet means” and who represents “a real danger to Russian democracy” (Russian agencies, March 22; Moscow Times, March 23).
The decision by Nemtsov and Khakamada to campaign for Yavlinsky in the last few days of the election is unlikely to give the Yabloko leader more than a tiny boost. Yavlinsky is running third in the opinion polls, receiving the support of 5-8.9 percent of those polled, depending on the survey (Vedemosti, March 23). However their decision to back Yavlinsky could further erode the already-faded democratic credentials of Kirienko, Chubais and Gaidar, given that a number of grass-roots democratic activists within the SPS have already spoken out against the decision to endorse Putin, and have backed either Samara Governor Konstantin Titov or Yavlinsky.
Yavlinsky, meanwhile, was the object of an intense attack yesterday on the nightly news program presented by Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned channel said to be controlled by Boris Berezovsky. The channel gave wide coverage to a host of accusations, including charges by other presidential candidates, including ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky and filmmaker Stanislav Govoryukhin, that Yavlinsky has spent far more on his campaign than the legally allowed limit. ORT cited unsubstantiated allegations that Yavlinsky has received millions of dollars in funding from foreign sources, including George Soros and various German businesses. The channel also linked Yavlinsky with Media-Most founder and tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, whom it accused of being behind efforts to boycott the presidential election. ORT even highlighted charges that Yavlinsky recently had a face-lift, and interviewed another presidential candidate, Ella Pamfilova, who questioned whether the country needed a “Russian Michael Jackson” as its president (ORT, March 22).
PUTIN PRESIDENCY SIGNALS HARDER LINE TOWARD BALTIC STATES.