Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 72

In their April 10 appeal for a broad democratic coalition, Konstantin Titov, Marina Salye, Yuri Chernichenko and Lev Ponomarev called on Russia’s democratic organizations to work out a “unified position” in relation to the executive branch. This is noteworthy, given that Titov, Salye and Ponomarev have been openly critical of Putin and the overall direction of Kremlin policy under the new head of state. Titov, for example, declared prior to last month’s presidential election that there is “nothing in the actions of Vladimir Putin to indicate any dedication to democracy and liberal values” (Moscow Times, March 22). Ponomarev filed a complaint last month with the Central Election Commission, charging that Putin had violated election laws by handing out gifts while on official trips. During a trip to Volgograd in February, the then-acting president handed out, among other things, cash grants, televisions and apartment vouchers to military personnel, totaling nearly US$1 million. The CEC rejected Ponomarev’s complaint (Moscow Times, March 18). Salye, who sat on St. Petersburg’s city council in the early 1990s, when Putin was a deputy to then St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, has charged that the mayor’s office at that time–and Putin himself–were complicit in financial machinations. According to Salye, these included skimming off money from the sale of Russian natural resources, from which the proceeds were supposed to be used for the purchase abroad of food supplies for the city (see the Monitor, March 16).

Thus the signatories to yesterday’s appeal are openly anti-Putin, which has put them at odds with SPS leaders Sergei Kirienko and Anatoly Chubais, who have unequivocally backed the president-elect. Yegor Gaidar and his Russia’s Democratic Choice, which is part of the SPS, also endorsed Putin for president, albeit at the eleventh hour. In an apparent attempt to isolate the dissidents, the SPS leadership last month dissolved the coalition’s 24-member political council, which included Ponomarev’s Democratic Russia and Chernichenko’s Peasant’s Party. Afterwards, Ponomarev openly accused Chubais of splitting the SPS by insisting that it back Putin (Moscow Times, March 22). These SPS dissidents are natural allies of Yavlinsky, who has repeatedly said that he sees no fundamental difference between Putin and Zyuganov. One prominent SPS member, veteran human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalev, backed Yavlinsky in last month’s presidential election.

If the SPS formally splits, it is not yet clear whether some of its wavering top members, including Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada, will go with the dissidents or with Chubais and Kirienko. Nemtsov, it seems, is trying to steer a path between them–or, to put it less politely, equivocating. For example, asked today for his view on how Putin was doing as president, Nemtsov answered that judging by his actions, Putin planned “to combine a European way in the economy with maintaining the current situation in the power structures.” Nemtsov said this was unachievable, and that there must be “serious changes” in the Kremlin administration. Immediately after Putin’s victory at the polls last month, Nemtsov said he feared that the private NTV television station, which has been critical of Putin and the war in Chechnya, might be shut down (see the Monitor, March 27).

Yesterday’s appeal for a broad democratic coalition was also aimed at OVR, but it is difficult to imagine this grouping making common cause with the anti-Putin democrats. OVR, which is largely composed of regional leaders, agreed to coordinate its activities with SPS and Yabloko in the State Duma earlier this year. This was in response to the deal that the pro-Putin Unity party cut with the Communists to divide up the Duma’s key committee chairmanships between themselves, leaving Yabloko, SPS and OVR empty-handed. Since then, however, the dynamic has changed: One of OVR’s leaders, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, has all but jumped on the Putin bandwagon, and there are rumors that its other leader, Yevgeny Primakov, may be given a post in Putin’s next cabinet. In any case, Luzhkov and Primakov are much closer to Putin in ideology and spirit than they are to the anti-Putin democrats.