Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 121

Valeria Novodvorskaya’s and Sergei Yushenkov’s comments at last week’s democratic conference highlight the ambivalent position that both the the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko have vis-a-vis the Kremlin. The SPS has openly said that it will support Kremlin policies with which it agrees–mainly in the area of economic reform–while opposing those with which it disagrees–mainly in the area of press freedom and other democratic rights. And while Yabloko has been rhetorically less pro-Kremlin and more critical of Putin, its voting record on Kremlin initiatives has been similar to that of the SPS. Last year, for example, both parties’ factions in the State Duma voted for the government’s proposed 13-percent flat income tax rate, which became law at the start of this year, and just last week both SPS and Yabloko voted in favor of another Kremlin-backed initiative–a reduction of the corporate profit tax to 24 percent from 35 percent, which the Duma passed in a second reading (Russian agencies, June 22). Both parties also support initiatives to reform Russia’s judicial system initiated by deputy Kremlin chief of staff Dmitry Kozak, while opposing a package of Kremlin-supported bills giving a green light to the importation of spent nuclear fuel, which passed in the Duma earlier this month (see the Monitor, June 11).

For his part, Yavlinsky has been increasingly critical of the Kremlin of late, at least rhetorically. Immediately after the June 19 conference, he warned that an “authoritarian-bureaucratic system” posing as a democracy was being set up in Russia. By way of evidence, the Yabloko leader referred to the situation in Primorsky Krai, where former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov was removed from the gubernatorial race earlier this month, some suspect with Kremlin connivance. Yavlinsky also referred obliquely to Putin’s recent meeting with a group of nonthreatening nongovernmental organiations, which Yavlinsky, echoing critics in the human rights community, dismissed as an attempt to create an officially-sanctioned “civil society” (TV-6, June 24; see also the Fortnight in Review, June 22).

In an interview aired over the weekend, Yavlinsky accused the government of deliberately blocking his party’s access to the mass media. “The most important thing for us today is to find new means of contact with our electorate,” the Yabloko leader said on “Litsom k litsu” (Face to Face), the weekly interview program of Radio Liberty’s Russian language service. “We have great difficulty today in finding the opportunity to systematically put forward our views… [I]t is practically impossible for us to explain our position to a wide circle of voters, in connection with the fact that we do not have access to television. And this is an official decision–on limiting our access to television, to major mass media…. It is a decision that has obviously been taken by the presidential administration, which today practically controls television” (Radio Liberty, June 24).

Yavlinsky made his comments in response to a question about why Yabloko has been unable to increase its support beyond roughly 10 percent of the electorate. He has in the past accused the Kremlin of monopolizing the media and keeping news of Yabloko off the airwaves, and media content studies of election campaigns in the 1990s–conducted both by Yabloko itself and groups like the European Institute for the Media (EIM)–suggested that there had been a concerted effort to minimize coverage of Yabloko and its leader and to give what coverage there was a negative spin.