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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin, Yavlinsky Split Over Unity

President Boris Yeltsin has announced that he is "uniting" with his main democratic rival in the June presidential election, Grigory Yavlinsky, in a move that would give a vital boost to his campaign, but any deal was promptly denied by Yavlinsky.

Yavlinsky, leader of the reformist Yabloko movement, told NTV Independent Television that a deal had not been reached.

"The president's words that we have united don't correspond to reality."

Yavlinsky suggested to Interfax that Yeltsin's announcement was an election ploy and said, "I have no intention or desire to join the presidential team."

Yeltsin spoke Saturday on his arrival in the Black Sea port of Astrakhan, where he was asked about his negotiations with Yavlinsky.

"We have already met, and we are uniting," Interfax quoted the president as saying.

There has been widespread speculation that Yeltsin was seeking a deal with Yavlinsky, under which the latter would receive the post of prime minister in return for withdrawing his presidential candidacy. The two met for over two hours last week, during which time Yavlinsky reportedly spelled out his conditions for cooperation.

But according to Reuters, Yavlinsky told Radio Mayak that the question of withdrawing his candidacy had not come up in his meeting with Yeltsin.

Similar reports of a ministerial offer had circulated earlier this month after Yeltsin met retired General Alexander Lebed, who is also running for the presidency. But Lebed denied being offered or accepting any post from Yeltsin.

In an interview with Interfax and Itar-Tass in Astrakhan, Yeltsin said he hoped to form an alliance with Yavlinsky, Lebed and the other member of the putative "Third Force" democratic alliance, eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fyodorov. But he said his cooperation with the three politicians could take various forms.

"This does not mean those candidates must give up fighting for the presidential post," he said.

Yavlinsky, 44, has dropped a series of hints about his willingness to do a deal with Yeltsin under certain conditions, including a cabinet reshuffle, the restructuring of economic reform policies and an end to the fighting in Chechnya.

"The issue we are going to discuss would be a first in Russian history: a political coalition between the government and the democratic opposition," Yavlinsky said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation Wednesday.

After his talks with Yeltsin on May 5, the Yabloko leader confirmed that they had discussed the possibility of cooperation and said he had given Yeltsin a list of policy proposals that the president had promised to examine, including serious "but not cardinal" cabinet changes.

Yeltsin is still fighting an uphill battle to retain the presidency. While most opinion polls have shown Yeltsin to be gaining ground against Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader still appears to be hold Sobchak hailed the possibility of an alliance between Yeltsin, Yavlinsky, Fyodorov and Lebed.

"This is very good news," he said. "If all forces oriented toward democratic reform understand that you can't go backwards into the future -- if they unite -- then I think Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin] will have a good chance of winning. Today, this cannot be said. Today, the situation seems dangerous because in all significant parts of the country, Zyuganov is ahead of Yeltsin."

Sobchak said that at the very beginning of the presidential campaign, he had urged Yavlinsky to stand behind Yeltsin.

"I told Yavlinsky: 'One has to stand behind one candidate, and that candidate must be Boris Nikolayevich [Yeltsin],'" Sobchak said, adding that he had pledged to support Yavlinsky in the presidential election in the year 2001.

He said that if Zyuganov won the presidential election, the Russian economy would collapse within six months, and "nobody will invest a single dollar into the Russian economy."

As for the president, Sobchak said, "Yeltsin will go down in history as a great reformer who dared launch deep reforms in a country that was hopelessly lagging behind all others in all basic parameters."

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov appeared unconcerned by the proposed alliance between his chief opponents Saturday, telling the Associated Press that such a move would alienate voters and "mean the end of Yavlinsky's political career."

"You cannot order the voters around," Zyuganov said.

Yeltsin arrived in Astrakhan by ship after traveling for two days along the Volga from the city of Volgograd, making campaign stops at the towns of Akhtubinsk and Znamensk, both military industrial centers. At a meeting with local mayors in Akhtubinsk, he said he had signed a decree on measures to improve the defense industry, which has suffered near total collapse since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Interfax reported.

It was not clear exactly when Yeltsin would be returning to Moscow.

When he stepped off the ship in Astrakhan, the president was met by heckling crowds complaining of delayed payments in salaries and pensions and confronted by a banner demanding "Stop the War in Chechnya," Reuters reported.

Answering questions from the crowd, Yeltsin reiterated his intention to visit Chechnya this month, although he declined to give the exact date. "I will go to Chechnya myself -- of course I will not name the date -- to seat everybody around the negotiating table," Reuters quoted him as saying.

On Wednesday, Interfax quoted Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov as saying that such a visit was "impossible" at present for security reasons.