Clever boxing by Russia's champion of democracy

Phil Reeves meets the combative Grigory Yavlinsky

Moscow - Grigory Yavlinsky used to be a boxer, but these days he likes to win his bouts with a rhetorical upper-cut, culled from the pages of 20th- century history: "The successful reform of Germany and Japan after the war was prepared by completely changing the political elite. In Russia, that did not happen."

Doubt has long been raised about the politics of the autocratically inclined President Boris Yeltsin, the magnates who underpin his rule and the former apparatchiks who crowd the corridors of government.

Many are assumed in the West to be reformers and democrats, despite evidence that their priorities have less to do with ideology than a desire to retain power.

But Mr Yavlinsky, head of Russia's Yabloko (Apple) party, has impeccable credentials, being leader of what he describes as "a real, federal democratic party of European values, of human values, of human rights, of competition, private property and the open market." That makes him relatively rare in Moscow: a largely pro-Western liberal ideologue. With Mr Yeltsin's second term in intensive care, Mr Yavlinsky has also emerged as one of his most caustic opponents, matching and often outsparring the Communist- nationalist opposition which dominates parliament.

Russia is in the grips of a "semi-criminal oligarchy" which has sprung from and coalesced around the remnants of the Soviet system, he told the Independent. The media is tamed; even the opposition is something of a sham. "The government is working hand-in-hand with the Communists and the nationalists ... They are the main forces which are supporting the government."

The timing of such attacks is no coincidence. Like everyone else, the 44-year-old economist senses Russia is preparing for the possibility of a future with a new president, amid a mood that dusk has set on the Yeltsin era. Last week he was on the offensive again, writing in the Financial Times: "The ruling elite is neither democratic nor Communist, neither conservative nor liberal, neither red nor green. It is merely greedy and rapacious."

Given such failings, the leadership is, he warns, unable to cope with new menaces to Russia and the West: loss of control over nuclear weapons, development of a breeding-ground for terrorism and crime, and the "high probability" of an environmental disaster.

He told the Independent: "A very small number of people have benefited from what happened in the last five years, maybe a million out of 158 million. That million is really rich. But all the others ... got no access to resources, access to property, freedom to set up their own business."

Mr Yavlinsky wants Mr Yeltsin's successor to be subject to more checks and balances; there should be no more massive tax breaks issued with a stroke of the pen, no more secret decrees. "We need a system where it would not be possible for the president to have a morning cup of tea, and then to start a war."

Should an election be called, Mr Yavlinsky would run, although he is overshadowed by the front-runners, notably the nationalist-leaning Alexander Lebed and Yuri Luzhkov, Mayor of Moscow.

Yabloko enjoys strong support among the urban educated but Mr Yavlinsky's 10 million supporters are too few to put him high in the field. He could winkle a promise of a top position by offering an alliance with whatever candidate the ruling establishment fields under the tattered banner of democracy and reform. But he prefers to remain aloof, an uncompromising democratic voice.

"If we went to the oligarchy, they (the voters) would say 'you are the same. You are only looking for your own'. The people would be disappointed. We have to show that there can be a clean democracy, with clean hands." Fine words. But in a country angered and humiliated by Nato expansion, the loss of the Chechen war, and botched economic reforms, the outlook for liberal ideologues is not great.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
Life and Style
fashion David Beckham fronts adverts for his underwear collection
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape