Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 155

In a decision which caught most observers by surprise, Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko and former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin announced on August 23 that they will join forces. Stepashin will reportedly get one of the top three positions in Yabloko’s party list of candidates for this December’s parliamentary elections. In a joint statement, Yabloko and Stepashin pledged that their alliance would be an “honest, effective and democratic” ruling party or opposition, depending on how they fared in the December vote. Stepashin, meanwhile, pledged to stick with Yabloko and be part of its parliamentary faction (Russian agencies, August 24).

Stepashin’s decision to align with Yabloko followed the weekend collapse of an attempt to put together a broad center-right coalition which would have included Stepashin, Anatoly Chubais’ Right Cause, Sergei Kirienko’s New Force and Viktor Chernomyrdin’s Russia is Our Home. After Russia is Our Home refused to get on board, Stepashin also abandoned the proposed coalition and announced that he would run for a seat representing a single mandate district in St. Petersburg. Yabloko, which has a powerful organization in Russia’s second city, has promised to support Stepashin’s run (Russian agencies, August 24).

The Yabloko-Stepashin alliance was not entirely out of the blue: Last week, Yabloko leader Yavlinsky and the former prime minister met several times to discuss a possible alliance. By week’s end, however, Yavlinsky and other Yabloko officials were saying that Stepashin had backed out (RTR, August 22).

On one level, the Yabloko-Stepashin alliance looks strange, given that Stepashin, prior to his tenure as prime minister, was a long-time loyalist to President Boris Yeltsin and a security forces chief who played a key role in the Chechen War. Yabloko has been a stalwart critic of Yeltsin and strongly opposed that war. On the other hand, Yabloko–in what might be, at least in part, an attempt to broaden its appeal beyond members of the liberal intelligentsia to more nationalist-minded voters–has come out strongly in support of the government’s military campaign against Islamist insurgents in Dagestan. Having Stepashin, a former interior minister and security services chief, on its ticket might further help Yabloko broaden its base, particularly since Stepashin’s approval rating has increased since Yeltsin fired him from the prime ministerial post earlier this month. A poll recently taken by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that Stepashin ranks second, behind former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, in terms of public trust (ORT, August 22).

The Yabloko-Stepashin union, however, may not live beyond December’s parliamentary vote, given that Yavlinsky has already announced plans to run for president next year, and Stepashin is likely to follow suit.