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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gaidar Pays Visit to Real World in Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG - If Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais had looked out of their couchette at around 3 A. M. , they would have seen two thieves scampering from their train to a nearby getaway car.


For the two deputy prime ministers sharing a cabin on the Moscow-St. Petersburg express, it was their first and last whistle-stop tour of the campaign, a chance to show themselves as regular guys.


The train robbers just down the corridor were one sign that at least for a night the leaders of Russia's Choice, known as the party of the government, had joined the real world of modern Russia.


Later, Gaidar, acting as the head of Russia's Choice, tried to keep up the "man of the people" appearance by journeying about Russia's second city on a bus.


Yet many of the several hundred workers who saw Gaidar at the Baltic shipbuilding plant responded warily to a man who appeared stiff and ill at ease.


"I'm against Gaidar", shipyard builder Nikolai Kudolov said afterward. "I'm tired of people promising a golden future and then doing nothing".


Gaidar's message to voters on the trip that ended Wednesday was often shrouded in rapid techno-speak. But it was simple at the core: Vote for Russia's Choice or face disaster with the opposition.


"'We should first of all clarify the character of the choice that should be made during Dec. 12", Gaidar told The Moscow Times.


He said he fears that voters could end up choosing a parliament opposed to reforms much like the old one, which President Boris Yeltsin dissolved and then crushed by force of arms in October.


"There will be a strong communist fraction, there will be a strong agricultural fraction, there will be a strong so-called centrist fraction that will try to promote populist politics", Gaidar said in the interview on his campaign bus.


"Everything depends on two events", he went on. "How strong the democratic vote will be, and how close will be the cooperation between the democratic forces".


Gaidar, the author of Russia's economic reforms, seemed most at ease spreading his message before small gatherings of St. Petersburg's bankers, managers, and intelligentsia, who clearly understood his economic jargon.


Observers say that Gaidar thrives on policy-making but falters in communicating to the general public - a shortcoming reflected in polls and on his tour of Russia's second city.


"I think he could be a good campaigner if he wanted", said Mikhail Reznikov, who organizes campaign trips for Russia's Choice. But "he is very busy and not as aggressive as Kasparov", referring to the world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who has been campaigning on behalf of Russia's Choice.


Although officially on unpaid leave this week, Gaidar switched hats from party candidate to government official repeatedly during his campaign trip. When he visited a local military base where campaigning is forbidden, the tour was instantly deemed "official government business".


When Gaidar appeared on local television, he again transformed into a government official, not a party leader, to comply with the rules of objective campaign coverage. He also enjoyed a police escort to clear away traffic on Tuesday.


Campaign aides say that there will be no more campaign trips for Gaidar. But they said he may directly take on one of Russia's Choice's greatest obstacles on Friday by debating Grigory Yavlinsky, a fellow economist and party leader - a man who can speak Gaidar's language.