THE NEW STYLE OF THE OLIGARCHS AND THE OPPOSITION

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The methods of the non-parliamentary opposition are being restructured

After realizing that public support for a radical anti-Putin stance is extremely low, Russia’s opposition forces and the emigre oligarchs who sponsor them have changed tactics, shifting to a more moderate and respectable approach. But their underlying aims and motives remain unchanged.


The new political season opened with great expectations among emigre oligarchs and the opposition forces which are not represented in parliament. The optimists among them expected an “orange revolution” in Russia. The realists argued that rather than waiting for nature’s favors, the opposition should work on implementing various projects: from establishing a united democratic party to a “left turn” or even a “Russian tilt” for the whole opposition. All these projects failed to get off the ground. So did an attempt to establish a “united right-wing and left-wing anti-Putin front.” Therefore, the style and methods of the non-parliamentary opposition and the oligarchs who support it are being restructured.

The division of roles in the non-parliamentary opposition into “moderates” and “irreconcilables” has become a reality; but it’s only a division of roles, not signifying real political differences. While maintaining an overall hardline strategy with regard to the Putin regime, Leonid Nevzlin and Boris Berezovsky have adopeted two different tactics with regard to the political forces they influence. To all appearances, the emigre oligarchs have chosen to create the impression of playing down conflict with the Kremlin (since this is clearly unproductive), while transferring respectable opposition figures (primarily Mikhail Kasyanov and Grigori Yavlinsky) back to their accustomed calm political fields.

Mikhail Kasyanov’s evolution is striking: he’s become a “moderate” again. “Many of the regime’s actions are incorrect, and in that sense I am in opposition to it.” What is this, if not an outward sign of being prepared to work within the system defined by the authorities? Even more revealing are Kasyanov’s evaluation of the economic situation (no crisis should be expected), his call for people “not to give in to provocation,” his de facto refusal to establish his own party, and his very unenthusiastic claim to a leading role in unifying the democratic forces.

In the Moscow city legislature campaign, the alliance of democratic forces based on the Yabloko party made the same old demands in its “Policy declaration of the Democratic Forces Coalition.” The Moscow city legislature’s independence from the Moscow municipal and federal bureaucracies, observance of civil liberties, democratization of electoral legislation – all this is familiar from the Yabloko party’s previous policy programs, and Yabloko voters are used to it. The radicalization of Yabloko seems to have been halted.

But is that really the case? Evidently not. Of course, the more radical face of Yabloko – Sergei Mitrokhin – has been relegated to the background again; that’s logical enough, now that the “revolutionary” period of the party’s activities is over. Yavlinsky has restored his erstwhile image as a responsible politician. But all this doesn’t mean Yabloko has really changed its policies; rather, it’s a maneuver aimed at expanding voter support by appealing to Yabloko’s traditional support groups, who don’t like radicalism. Meanwhile, previous methods are still being used to appeal to fringe voters: Yabloko’s regional branches haven’t stopped organizing joint events with the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) – what’s more, Mitrokhin has announced that Yabloko and the NBP are forming a confederation.

The United Civic Front, the NBP, the Defense (Oborona) movement, the Yes! (Da!) movement, Garry Kasparov, Vladimir Ryzkhov, Viktor Shenderovich, the remnants of the Free Choice 2008 Committee: all these represent the “second tactic” of the oligarchs and the opposition. There have not been, and probably will not be, any substantial changes in the activities of these politicians and political organizations: their goal is to mobilize aggressive opponents of the Putin regime.

The relatively moderate opposition continues to disintegrate. It is unable to reach agreement on the issue of leadership – and it isn’t even trying. Grigori Yavlinsky says: “Some liberals consider Kasyanov as working against the people, since he is associated with both Yeltsin’s Family and the Putin administration; some regard him as a new figure; and others see that his support rating is very low.” This statement by Yavlinsky clearly indicates that the established democratic politicians not only decline to recognize Kasyanov as their new leader or common presidential candidate, but are even prepared to fight him.

Kasyanov’s statement in response – to the effect that he’d be prepared to head a united opposition if “our three or four remaining democratic parties essentially start from a clean slate” – is highly confrontational, despite its mild form. The diagnosis is obvious: Yavlinsky and Kasyanov will not reach agreement. Neither will Yabloko and the URF really reach agreement; their alliance in Moscow is clearly a temporary one. By the time they go into the 2007 Duma campaign, the “moderate” non-parliamentary democratic forces might even be split three ways, rather than two as in 2003. And they will also be hampered by the radicals – the Defense and Yes! movements, funded by the same oligarchs – who are sure to act in alliance with the NBP.

Public opinion takes practically no notice of the non-parliamentary opposition, and ignores the “irreconcilables” entirely – despite their very intense public activity and self-promotion. In a nationwide poll measuring confidence in opposition leaders, done by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) on November 3, Gennadi Zyuganov scored 8%, Dmitri Rogozin, Sergei Glaziev, and Nikolai Kharitonov scored 3% each, and Irina Khakamada and Grigori Yavlinsky got 2% each. The public has no confidence in Mikhail Kasyanov – let alone Garry Kasparov, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Vladimir Ryzhkov, or the Defense and Yes! movement leaders.

And in a poll done by the Yuri Levada Analytical Center on November 4, only 4% of respondents said they would be prepared to vote for a combined list of candidates representing the democratic parties – compared to a whopping 43% for United Russia, a firm 22% for the Communist Party, 10% for the LDPR, and 6% for Motherland. What’s more, citizens don’t like the “irreconcilables”: in a poll done by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) on October 18, 32% of respondents said the democratic forces would have a better chance if they supported the policies of the authorities. Obviously, opinion poll results like these have been a major factor in the decision of the oligarchs and the opposition to adopt “moderate” tactics.

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