Putin Represents an Imperial Course for Russia

Article excerpt

A leading democratic figure in Russia, Grigory A. Yavlinsky is the cofounder and chairman of Yabloko, a liberal party. Yavlinsky is an economist who became widely known in 1990 when he co-authored the radical "500 Days" economic program with Stanislav Shatalin that was eventually rejected by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. He was also the co-author of a proposal for large-scale Western assistance to the USSR in exchange for specific reforms, known as the "Grand Bargain," with Graham Allison of Harvard University. Yavlinsky went on to become an architect of relatively successful economic reforms in the province of Nizhny-Novgorod, working closely with governor Boris Nemtsov, who currently leads the other main liberal party, the Union of Right Forces (SPS). Yavlinsky has been a presidential candidate twice and a longtime critic of the privatization project carried out under Boris Yeltsin and its consequences. This interview was conducted on May 19, 2003, at the Yabloko office of the State Duma in Moscow by Demokratizatsiya founder Fredo Arias-King.

Demokratizatsiya: Now that Yeltsin is gone, do you think the unity of the democratic forces is more doable, say cooperation between the Union of Right Forces, Yabloko, and other liberal forces?

Yavlinsky: What do you mean by "democratic forces"?

Demokratizatsiya: Usually they associate the democratic forces with those parties that are not the Communists, not the party of power, not xenophobes or ... but you are right, maybe it's a matter of semantics.

Yavlinsky: I don't think that's a good way to describe who are the democratic forces.

Demokratizatsiya: Alright then, between Yabloko and SPS. Say, if they have a leadership change and they remove Anatoly Chubais and Alfred Kokh, would there be more room for cooperation between Yabloko, and then Irina Khakamada, and others in SPS?

Yavlinsky: Maybe. But there is no hope that Chubais and Kokh will leave. They are the key people after all. They are more important there than Khakamada and other people. These people are the real SPS, and this nomination of Mr. Kokh [to manage the SPS legislative campaign] is making things much more clear than they were before.

Demokratizatsiya: In the view of Yabloko, what is the main item on the agenda for the country? What is the main wish list?

Yavlinsky: The liberation of the state from the domination of oligarchic, semi-criminal groups. Which means an independent judicial system, independent law-making, existence of independent media, more or less fair elections, that's what it means. That is the most important task for Yabloko.

Demokratizatsiya: Putin is viewed in the West as improving the economic performance, mainly the tax system--which I understand was a Yabloko idea, the flat tax, the fair tax--but taking back political and press freedoms in the process. Do you think this view in the West is correct?

Yavlinsky: What is really going on in the Russian economy I would call de-industrialization. I can say that the high economic growth in 2000 and 2001 was the consequence of the devaluation of the ruble and very high oil prices. What about the structural reforms? What about the changes in the political environment? If we compare them to the mid- 1990s, the situation is no better. Maybe in some aspects such as corruption, bureaucratization, and the domination of super-powerful oligarchic groups, the situation is probably worse than it was before.

Demokratizatsiya: You once used the anecdote of the "pink tank" to describe NATO and its expansion. I remember a speech you gave at Harvard in the mid-1990s, where you mention that NATO is a nice pink tank--it has flowers, it plays music, it has girls on top, but it's still a tank. In light of NATO's latest expansion that will cover seven new countries, mostly former Soviet and Warsaw Pact members, has your view of NATO changed in any way?

Yavlinsky: NATO is not a threat. It's still a pink tank, but [one] that can hardly move, because the people who are in the tank have no idea where to move and how to cooperate. …