An interview with Nikita Belykh, leader of the Union of Right Forces.

Question: What happened to the party after the beating taken in 2003? Could you please outline some successes?

Nikita Belykh: The party exists, and that’s what counts. It survived, despite all predictions to the contrary. The YUKOS affair and abolition of gubernatorial elections forced voters to take sides. Growth of membership in the party is therefore a success.

Question: Do you meet the required parameter – 50,000 members?

Nikita Belykh: We would have met it long ago were it not for improper counting. I’m talking about the people who managed to be registered in the Union of Right Forces but nobody knows how. Say, the Moscow organization included 1,930 members in January 2004, and numbers 1,970 members nowadays. It does not mean that it grew by 40 activists only in eighteen months. We did not admit new members only we also ousted some.

Question: What is the state of affairs in regional organizations?

Nikita Belykh: It is the moment of truth in the regions now. Before December 2003, leaders of most regional organizations were sending in glowing reports. These career seekers quietly dropped out when the party was defeated. No wonder. After all, getting into local legislatures was all they had ever aspired for.

When we were a party with a faction in the lower house of parliament, governors were eager to interact with the Union of Right Forces. The situation is certainly different now. It’s all right. We know now exactly how liberals on the local level are and who are not.

Question: The Union of Right Forces formed factions in several regional legislatures. Can it be ascribed to the local authorities’ tolerance?

Nikita Belykh: To a certain extent. We performed all right in this company, much to the surprise of many. I admit that the Union of Right Forces was running for parliament in some regions with not exactly right-wing slogans, but it’s better that, than another defeat. We wanted to do away with this defeatist tendency. We made an emphasis on quantity, not quality.

Question: So it was to do away with the defeatist tendency that you allied with the Yabloko with which you had not been able to ally on the federal level for years?

Nikita Belykh: Let me tell you what I think about the Yabloko. There is Grigori Yavlinsky who thinks that he owns the Yabloko. And there is the Yabloko that exists absolutely autonomously. Regional Yabloko leaders are reasonable people ready for interaction. On the federal level, however, it is like a family. There is a conflict of interests on this level. We have to step over it and live together or divorce for good.

Question: Are you saying that you will continue this practice of alliances with the Yabloko in the regions?

Nikita Belykh: If the alliances are integral and on an equal footing, why not?

Question: All right. What about failures in the last eighteen months? Have there been any?

Nikita Belykh: We failed in reinforcement of regional organizations. Their coordination without a leader on the Political Council was impossible, unfortunately. A lot of projects were never implemented. We failed to preserve some traditional niches like the subject of small businesses.

Question: Elections in the regions will be numerous in the next twelve months. Moreover, all elections are supposed to take place on one and the same day. Does the Union of Right Forces have sufficient resources for simultaneous participation in all campaigns?

Nikita Belykh: The Union of Right Forces cannot hope to participate in all regional elections at once. We do not have unlimited human and financial resources. Aware of these limitations, we will encourage certain regional organizations to lead their own political life. First, however, they will have to explain exactly how they intend to have their candidates elected into legislatures. We cannot afford any more mistakes. Failure in the regional elections may mean failure in the federal.

Question: The Union of Right Forces is a party that is not represented in the parliament. It means that it will have to collect 2 million signatures or raise funds. Since invalidation of signatures is so easy, you will probably opt for the latter. How do you plan to raise money?

Nikita Belykh: Money does not count when it is the fate of democracy that is at stake. Say, we view small and medium businesses first and foremost as a potential electorate. We need more serious sources at this point, major businesses that understand all the consequences of our failure. Boris Nemtsov and me will start looking for new sponsors as well. I do not doubt that the money will suffice.

Question: Anatoly Chubais ascribed the 2003 defeat, to unclear political positions and weak work in the regions. Is there a chance for voters to finally understand by 2007, what the Union of Right Forces objects to?

Nikita Belykh: We will not make the same mistake again. I mean the clarity of the position. At the same time, neither do we intend to be opposition for the sake of opposition. The degree of our opposition will depend on the general political landscape. If, for example, the YUKOS affair continues as before, we will criticize the Prosecutor General’s Office. If we dislike anything about the government and its actions, we will say so.

Question: What about propaganda? Door-to-door did not help you much in 2003.

Nikita Belykh: The problem with liberals and democrats is that they replace debates over a problem with its solution. Should someone from the regions call me to say that they have bought a newspaper and intend to publish propaganda materials there; my task will be restricted to control over the process. There is another scenario, more plausible I think. A regional organization charts a plan for a campaign and, aware that it cannot raise the necessary funds on its own, appeals to us. We will then calculate how much it will cost us and how many votes it may bring us. If, however, regional organizations depend on the central leadership alone, then we will have to consider adequacy of their leaders and perhaps replace some.

Question: What do you intend to do against the administrative resource?

Nikita Belykh: We will count on direct communications. Absence of access to the media will have its negative effect of course. Still, if we arrange something in central Moscow, Muscovites will know if the event is ignored by the media.

Question: You do not mention the Yabloko. Is the matter of a joint list closed?

Nikita Belykh: No. There are options here too. If Yavlinsky views me as a technical leader, I’m prepared to explain that he is wrong.

Question: If the joint list is compiled, is it possible for its leader to become a democratic candidate for president?

Nikita Belykh: Not automatically.

Question: Not even ex-premier Mikhail Kasianov.

Nikita Belykh: I answered this question I do not know how many times. Let him come to us first. We need to talk before sharing our roles and parts.