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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gaidar: Man To Admire, Sadly Inept

One should admire Yegor Gaidar. He is a man of some integrity and sincerity, who has a single-minded commitment to his goals that is rare among the world's politicians. The trouble is that each passing year exposes further his near total lack of political skills.

The latest instance is Gaidar's waffling on whom to support in the presidential race.

First he said he had made a "final and irrevocable" decision not to back President Boris Yeltsin, a pronouncement that served as a powerful if despairing symbol of how the president has lost the hearts of Russia's liberals. But this week Gaidar recanted, realizing Yeltsin may be the only candidate able to beat Gennady Zyuganov in June.

The effect has been to neutralize any impact Gaidar's ultimate choice may have and, simultaneously, to lessen his own stature.

Still more misplaced is Gaidar's tough talk about placing conditions on his support -- surely he must understand that nobody is listening. Democratic Russia's Choice has already laid its cards on the table: Anything is better than a Communist revanche and the party will back the strongest candidate with any democratic ties at all.

With Grigory Yavlinsky's popularity falling and Yeltsin's on the rise, Gaidar will be forced into the president's arms. To think that Yeltsin, who is pre-eminent among shrewd and calculating politicians, would be moved to change his policies by Gaidar's appeals is naive. And the former acting prime minister of Russia ought to know that. He was one of the president's first calculated sacrifices in December 1992.

If the president does end the war in Chechnya, fight corruption, and make a commitment to social welfare as Gaidar demanded, it will be to cast wider his net for votes, not to please democratic leaders. The abysmal performance of Russia's Democratic Choice at the polls last December has forfeited Gaidar any such influence.

It is painful to watch Gaidar struggle so publicly with two equally unpalatable positions: Compromise his stated principles and back Yeltsin, whom he blames for abandoning reform and launching a morally reprehensible war, or risk splitting the democratic camp further, thus easing the Communists' path to power.

Yet this dilemma was clear even before Gaidar went public with his condemnation of the president. His failure to temper his stance -- knowing that he would probably be driven back to Yeltsin in the end -- shows a lack of political judgment.

Gaidar's failure as a politician is more than just a personal tragedy. It is a shame for Russia that a man with a fine mind and a willingness to serve has from the start been so ineffective at getting his message across.