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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yavlinsky's Tough Call: Deal or Sink

For Grigory Yavlinsky, an alliance under Boris Yeltsin in the election would be a bitter pill to swallow. The Yabloko leader has built up a core of loyal followers around the idea of democratic opposition to both Yeltsin and the communists.


But such a deal may well now be in his and Russia's long-term interests, providing he can do it on his terms.


The argument for an alliance with Yeltsin is based on a few glum political realities. First, Yavlinsky must accept that he himself has little chance of getting through to the second round and that votes cast for him will ultimately be wasted. This is indeed what all the polls indicate. The idea of Yavlinsky putting together a winning "third force" campaign is at this stage a very long shot.


The other grim reality that Yavlinsky must face is that the prospect of a communist victory is as much of a threat to him and to Russian democracy as it is to Yeltsin. One need only look at the fascist and anti-Semitic groups who made up the national-patriotic forces with whom Zyuganov was happy to march on Victory Day on Thursday.


If the communists win, there is a serious risk not of the immediate civil war outlined by Yeltsin's scaremongers, but that the constitution will gradually be fundamentally undermined and that no further real elections will be held for a very long time. In that case, Yavlinsky might never get another shot at the Kremlin.


Those are strong arguments for Yavlinsky to join forces with Yeltsin, but not strong enough unless he can satisfy himself and his supporters that forming an alliance behind Yeltsin does not simply amount to a sell-out. Yavlinsky does not want to be turned into Yeltsin's patsy or his fall-guy.


Yavlinsky as recently as last Sunday accused Yeltsin of gross failings in relation to the war in Chechnya and to the sleaze and hardship of much of the process of economic reform. He told Yeltsin that before he could consider an alliance, he wanted the heads of those responsible.


This can only mean he wants Yeltsin to sack at last some the main culprits: chief of staff Nikolai Yegorov, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, FSB chief Mikhail Barsukov and security boss Alexander Korzhakov. Yavlinsky may also want a job for himself as prime minister or a few other key jobs for his people.


Handing over such a big slice of real power to Yavlinsky would in its turn be a difficult political pill for Yeltsin to swallow -- but it is long overdue and the ball is probably now in his court. Yeltsin must know that, opinion polls notwithstanding, the odds are against his beating Zyuganov in a runoff. He needs serious allies, and he will have to horsetrade with Yavlinsky to get them.