Moskovskii Komsomolets, January 30, 2003, EV

In some cases, form is more important and eloquent than content.

Late Tuesday evening, Yabloko leaders Grigory Yavlinsky and Sergei Ivanenko condescended to write a letter to Union of Right Forces (URF) leaders Boris Nemtsov and Irina Khakamada. In this letter, Yavlinsky cancelled a meeting with Nemtsov at which it had been planned to make one final effort to agree on a pre-election alliance.

The letter found its way to the Interfax news agency even before it reached a different floor of the Duma building. This indicates that it was intended from the start as a public brush-off rather than part of a negotiation process. The letter contains only one line about the essential point under discussion: “Unfortunately, your proposals are unacceptable to us.” Not a word about why they are unacceptable, or whether there is any room for compromise. They’re unacceptable, that’s all; now get lost!

Even in this very brief missive, less than a page long, Yavlinsky managed to lie. He wrote that he had learned of the URF’s proposals from many print and electronic media sources. Apparently he forgot that all the proposals were described to him in great detail by one of Russia’s leading oligarchs, the Yabloko party’s “exclusive sponsor”.

The deliberately insulting (there is no other term for it) tone of the letter did not happen by chance. It was not a consequence of the provincial upbringing of the Yabloko leader and his comrades. This was a conscious slap in the face, delivered with the aim of making any negotiations at all between Yabloko and the URF completely impossible; even though the URF had agreed to unprecedented concessions – for example, those URF leaders whom Yavlinsky despises would voluntarily quit their own party. (Yavlinsky had always made the departure of Anatoly Chubais and Sergei Kirienko an essential precondition.)

Of course, cancelling the meeting could be interpreted as a prominent politician’s reluctance to take on any extra psychological stress. But this seems so idiotic – such kindergarten behavior – that it’s unlikely to be the real reason. After all, if you really don’t want an alliance, the best way of not ruining your reputation is to simply let the negotiations drag on and on. But that is not the case here. So, looking at it from an adult perspective, there can be only one explanation: the Yabloko leader knows that he is guaranteed to win without an alliance.

And that can only happen under one condition: if Yabloko has the support of the Kremlin, which wants no unified right-wing opposition. In that case, no matter how pathetic Yabloko’s little boat may be in its own right, it will sail into the safe harbor of the next Duma in the wake of the mighty vessel that is the Presidential Administration. No matter that Yabloko’s regional branches don’t exist, or that its popularity is falling. The nice Kremlin people will always manage to get Yabloko the necessary 5% of the vote.

Indirect evidence for this version of events: the “exclusive sponsor” himself did not refuse to meet with URF leaders. To our knowledge, this meeting took place on Tuesday night. It is said that the oligarch was shocked by Yavlinsky’s behavior. And yet Yavlinsky seems to have no fear of losing his funding: which means he understands that his sponsor has to follow orders. Most likely, orders from behind the Kremlin walls.

So there will be no alliance between the URF and Yabloko for another four years. An opportunity to create a unified, rational opposition has once again been lost.

Way back when, around a decade ago, Yavlinsky took offense at not being invited to become a Cabinet minister. Who could have predicted that this personal drama would become the source of the greatest obstacle to the development of the democratic forces in Russia?


Izvestiia, January 30, 2003, p. 2

At the informal summit of CIS leaders in Kiev, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has received assurances about a job for himself and the creation of a CIS free trade zone. Kiev has been offered not only membership of the Euro-Asian Economic Community, but further cooperation in the field of gas transport.

Political analysts agree that the summit has been a triumph for Ukraine. Kuchma’s proposal to create a CIS free trade zone received full approval from his counterparts. Kuchma says that the necessary documents for the free trade zone will be ready “by the September summit in Yalta”. President Putin stressed that “the political will and economic resources required for this do exist”.

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus was the first to respond to these ideas. He also enthusiastically supported Putin’s proposal to make Kuchma chairman of the council of CIS heads of state. Lukashenko admitted: “Belarus is willing to compromise for the sake of getting things done.”

Thus, at the next official CIS summit, the position of CIS leader could be given to the president of a nation which is not a full member of the CIS. As Lukashenko said, Ukraine’s membership ought to be formalized.

Some regional issues were also discussed. President Putin spoke with Moldovan leader Vladimir Voronin about the Trans-Dniester region; and he discussed drug trafficking from Afghanistan with President Emomali Rakhmonov of Tajikistan. At a meeting of the “Caucasus Four”, Putin discussed Nagorno-Karabakh with President Geidar Aliev of Azerbaijan, President Robert Kocharian of Armenia, and President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia.

Putin promised Shevardnadze that natural gas deliveries to Georgia, disrupted due to a damaged pipeline, would be fully restored. However, Putin was firm on the issue of Abkhazia, saying that “Russian passports are not being issued on a large scale there, but there have been many applications” for Russian citizenship. Putin drew a comparison: in 1993-94, around a million Georgians came to Russia, and 650,000 of them received Russian passports. He said: “In that case, why should we refuse the citizens of Abkhazia?”

The informal summit turned out to be more successful for Ukrain than the official summit; thanks to this meeting, Ukraine has managed to secure the leadership of the CIS and reach agreement on creating a free trade zone – so Kiev is already reaping the benefits of its “Year of Russia”. Ukraine has guaranteed that Putin’s current visit will have swift and important consequences. As soon as January 31, a Russian Studies Forum will take place at the Livadiisky Palace in the Crimea: leading historians and philologists from the CIS, Hungary, and Germany will attend. They will to discuss the state of the Russian language in Ukraine and whether it is under pressure.

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