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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yavlinsky- Stepashin Not All That Odd

What do you get when you cross one of the Kremlin's harshest critics with one of its most loyal lieutenants? With the political odd couple of former Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, you get a potentially potent ticket.

Stepashin's decision late Tuesday to hook up with Yabloko marked the second time in as many weeks that one of President Boris Yeltsin's rapidly growing collection of political castaways has taken refuge with a staunch Kremlin opponent.

But while former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's decision last week to unite with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov may have been the most anticipated announcement of this turbulent political season, the Yavlinsky-Stepashin marriage came as somewhat of a surprise. But surprising as it was, it was also widely seen as a shrewd and calculated maneuver on Stepashin's part.

"By joining Yabloko, Stepashin showed that he is a real politician," said Yury Korgunyuk of the INDEM research center. "He demonstrated that he is thinking not only about today, but about the future."

Korgunyuk added that Stepashin has always been a bit of a political opportunist, with a keen sense for where the political winds are blowing.

"Stepashin is a person who always sells out at the last minute in a way that is advantageous for himselfand expensive for others," he said.

So, with power apparently slipping away from the Kremlin, the "loyal" Stepashin seems to be ditching the Kremlin and salvaging his political future.

Since being sacked by the deeply unpopular and increasingly isolated Yeltsin on Aug. 9, Stepashin f like Primakov before him f watched his public approval ratings rise. And like Primakov, he held court as various political heavyweights tried to win him over to their side. But while Primakov made it fairly clear from the start that he would eventually join Luzhkov's Fatherland-All Russia, Stepashin hemmed and hawed f and flirted.

He flirted briefly with Luzhkov. He flirted extensively with a fledgling liberal coalition that three of Yeltsin's other jilted prime ministers f Yegor Gaidar, Viktor Chernomyrdin and Sergei Kiriyenko f were struggling to create.

And then, last week f with the Gaidar-Chernomyrdin-Kiriyenko alliance floundering f Stepashin unexpectedly began flirting with Yabloko. But Yavlinsky seemed to put an end to that courtship talk last Thursday when he told a news conference that yes, he and Stepashin had considered joining forces. But, he added, Stepashin concluded that he could not join Yabloko because, as an "officer," he felt obliged to stay loyal to his president f whatever that may entail.

On Sunday night's broadcast of RTR television's popular current affairs show "Zerkalo," Yavlinsky said that Yabloko's door remained open for Stepashin. Two days later, the deal was sealed.

The alliance holds obvious advantages for the former prime minister. It virtually guarantees him a seat in the Duma with a party that could become a major player in post-Yeltsin Russia.

"Stepashin understands very well that the right coalition has little chance of getting into the Duma so he went with Yabloko," said Yevgeny Volk of the Heritage Foundation.

The alliance with Yabloko also gives Stepashin, long seen as a Kremlin stooge, a fresh new image as an independent politician. Yabloko is virtually the only political party in Russia that is not tainted in the public mind with the corruption and cronyism of the Yeltsin years. Yavlinsky has repeatedly turned down offers to join the Cabinet, saying that he wanted no part of what he called a corrupt oligarchic regime.

By joining the apparently squeaky-clean Yavlinsky, Stepashin f who told Komsomolskaya Pravda that he was fired by Yeltsin because he "couldn't be bought" f can shore up an image as an honest official who was unjustly fired.

Yavlinsky told reporters that he and Stepashin were united by a desire to fight corruption and oppose "the pulling apart of the government by various oligarchs and clans.''

But how can Yavlinsky f whose political persona is built around a staunch and uncompromising opposition to the current regime f join forces with a man who has been on the Yeltsin team for a decade? Stepashin openly supported Yeltsin's 1993 shelling of parliament f the event that first drove Yavlinsky into opposition. And Yavlinsky was one of the most vocal opponents to the 1994-96 war in Chechnya f a war that Stepashin helped plan and execute.

Both were coy on that issue, other than giving the impression that f with the Yeltsin era drawing to a close f they were prepared to let bygones be bygones.

"We decided not to speak about yesterday and today but to think about tomorrow," Stepashin said. "Our views on the future coincide."

So what is in this deal for Yavlinsky and Yabloko?

Volk said that Stepashin would help Yabloko expand its electoral base to voters inclined to support parties like Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia.

But more important, Volk said, just as Stepashin is counting on Yabloko to carry him to a post-Yeltsin political future, Yavlinsky is also counting on Stepashin.

"Yavlinsky understands that he won't be elected president in 2000, but he is hoping to get himself appointed prime minister in exchange for supporting somebody else for president," Volk said. "It seems now that he has made his choice in backing Stepashin."