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Russia: Gaidar Offers Mostly Positive View Of Putin

By Julie Corwin

Washington, 30 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russia's former acting premier, Yegor Gaidar, has offered a largely positive assessment of President Vladimir Putin's first year in office.

Gaidar, now a State Duma deputy with the Union of Rightist Forces faction, spoke on Monday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think-tank.

He said: "Last year in Russia we evidently had very serious political stabilization. We left the period of long-term economic and political instability which followed the collapse of the totalitarian system of the Soviet Union."

Gaidar expressed disagreement with presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who has charged that the government led by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has squandered the opportunity to conduct serious reforms afforded by last year's run of high oil prices.

"I do not agree that economic reform agenda of 2000 was weak and unfulfilled," Gaidar said. "I think the government was able to choose quite a few important priorities and got important results, one being the tax reform. It's very difficult to push through a radical tax reform."

However, interspersed between his praise for what the government achieved last year was criticism about an "evident slowdown" in economic reforms so far this year, and the danger of going too far with other reforms, such as the strengthening of the central government vis a vis the regions. "As in everything in Russia, you can overdo, and you can overcentralize," he cautioned.

Noting that there has been talk about rewriting the Russian Constitution, Gaidar said this would be the "craziest idea" since it would subsume the government's entire agenda.

Asked about the current controversy over the independent media outlet NTV, Gaidar was careful to make a distinction between the government and the presidential administration. Gaidar said that the pressure against Vladimir Gusinsky's Media-MOST Group has come from the Kremlin, not the government. However, Gaidar said even from the Kremlin "the message is mixed."

In Putin's meeting with journalists, Gaidar declared that Putin "said all the right things." Nevertheless, "most Russians" -- including his own political group the Union of Rightist Forces -- "do not believe that NTV's problems are mostly financial." In a statement that contradicts President Putin's own stance, Gaidar declared that "it is impossible to divide financial problems and the press's freedom."

In Moscow, meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said Monday that he does not plan to alter the status of private television channel NTV.

NTV General-Director and leading anchorman Yevgeny Kiselyov, who met with Putin along with 10 other NTV broadcasters and reporters, quoted the Russian president as saying that the channel should remain "in its present state."

"The president says that he is for the preservation of NTV's journalistic staff and for keeping the company out of state hands. I want to stress it. He said this."

The meeting took place in the Kremlin amid growing fears that state prosecutors are targeting the private channel as part of Putin's bitter feud with NTV owner Gusinsky. Gusinsky, founder and chairman of NTV's parent company Media-MOST, is currently under house arrest in Spain and is awaiting possible extradition on fraud charges brought by Russian prosecutors.