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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yavlinsky Considering a Comeback

MTGrigory Yavlinsky speaking to journalists two days after the Dec. 7 Duma elections.
He passed on the race for the presidency, but Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky says he's not yet thrown in the towel.

Despite the resounding defeat of Yabloko in the December Duma elections, Yavlinsky said Wednesday he was considering a comeback. He told a conference he was mulling joining forces with liberal opposition presidential candidate Irina Khakamada to create a broad democratic coalition after Sunday's vote.

But, for now, he said, there's nothing to do but stand aside to President Vladimir Putin's juggernaut. As he sees it, Putin's drive to concentrate all levers of power in his hands has destroyed the key principle of elections: political competition.

"For elections there has to be a procedure," Yavlinsky said in a recent interview. "For this, there are supposed to be at least three conditions: independent judges, independent mass media and independent financing. We have none of this now.

"It's like soccer," he said. "For a game you need to have goalposts, a ball and a pitch. If you have no ball, no pitch and no goalposts and only a score on the table, there is no game.

"I took part in the presidential elections in 1996 and 2000. In 1996, my goalposts were 100 meters away, while [President Boris] Yeltsin's were 10 meters away. I had three players on my team and Yeltsin had 55 on his," he said. "Still, it was a game.

"I know Russia, and that means I am ready to take part even if the game is not fair enough. But at least there must be a game."

Yavlinsky has a point. In Moscow, you could be forgiven for forgetting that there is meant to be a race for the presidency that ends in a vote next Sunday. Billboard posters of the candidates are seldom seen on the city's streets. Campaign advertising on television is limited mainly to slick Central Elections Commission ads calling on the electorate to come out and vote -- not for anyone in particular, just "for Russia." In the meantime, Putin enjoys blanket coverage on TV news programs.

The lack of even the scent of an election, according to Yavlinsky, comes down to Putin's drive to take control over all processes in the country.

Instead of "destroying the oligarchs as a class" as he pledged shortly after becoming president in 2000, Putin has only strengthened the oligarchic system, in Yavlinsky's view.

"The oligarchic system means you have no independence of the justice system, no independence of the press, no independence of parliament, no independence of elections and no civil control over the secret services," he said. "Such a system was created back in the '30s under Stalin. ... All the elements of civil society were concentrated under one hand. That's exactly what we have at the moment. That's why I call this system Gosklan.

"Now the economy is operated not through planning but by managing business," he said.

Putin's drive to eliminate the threat to his power posed by Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky has not solved the oligarch problem in Russia, Yavlinsky said. Instead, the selective approach has further consolidated power in Putin's hands and perpetuated the oligarchic system by frightening big business into being willing to be managed by Putin, he said. "He is not changing the type of relations. ... People don't believe there has been a divorce between business and the state."

But, Yavlinsky said, the game is not over yet. "The main development will be after the elections."

That might not be just bluster for a politician pushed to the fringes after taking funding from Khodorkovsky and being pushed out of parliament in December's vote.

Besides entertaining the idea of forming a democratic coalition with Khakamada, he's also been in consultations with business leaders, he said, to discuss "ways out" of the situation. He declined, however, to name the businessmen he has met with or what the strategy might be.

For now, ahead of elections, businessmen are too afraid to openly move into opposition, but are biding their time until the summer when the Kremlin could let down its guard and when it becomes clear how much more money the government could try to extract in taxes from major raw materials sectors like oil. "This is just part one of the story," Yavlinsky said.

It's clear that big business is still afraid to raise its voice and talk about anything that might have the slightest connection to Putin's policies. All business leaders contacted by The Moscow Times turned down interview requests to comment on Putin's track record on the economy ahead of the election. From Mikhail Fridman at Alfa Group, to Vladimir Potanin at Interros, to Anatoly Chubais at Unified Energy Systems and Viktor Vekselberg at Tyumen Oil Co., the answer was the same: They would not like to comment on anything remotely political.

If Yavlinsky's coalition with Khakamada gets off the ground, it would be a big step forward from earlier aborted and bitter attempts to merge Yabloko with the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, the party Khakamada helped found.

Yavlinsky said Wednesday he could find common ground with Khakamada because she had apologized for mistakes of the past and had distanced herself from Yavlinsky's ideological enemies, other SPS founders Anatoly Chubais and Alfred Kokh.

In the meantime, Yavlinsky said, the consolidation of the oligarchic system under Putin was rendering senseless all the much-lauded reforms the president has undertaken in his first term.

"You can paint your nails, or repair your teeth in a very nice way. ... But if you have liver disease, heart disease or blood disease, then I would prefer to deal with these issues," he said. "That means that you can improve the tax system forever and draft new laws on the mortgage system, whatever. But the crucial issue is what is going on with the corrupted, semi-criminal oligarchic system.

"All these minor improvements are not changing the substance. There are still two major problems. If we look at the liver, we have no small or medium business competition. If we look at the heart, then it is our dependency on oil and gas."

Putin supporters and even his nay-sayers say that at least things have become more stable compared to the chaos of the Yeltsin years. But Yavlinsky had little praise even for this.

"Stability means growth, growth means development. Stability without modernization of society and the economy means rotting. We have growth without development. Development means social issues: health care, education. We have growth like in Soviet times: Everything is based on oil production, steel.

"The best stability, you know, is in the cemetery."

Staff Writer Caroline McGregor contributed to this report.