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Russia: Yabloko Leader Says Kremlin Using Gas Dispute To Build Popular Support

Grigorii Yavlinskii (CTK) RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Sharyi interviewed Grigorii Yavlinskii, the head of the Russia's liberal Yabloko party, about the gas dispute between Moscow and Kyiv. The interview was conducted on 3 January, ahead of today's announcement of a price settlement.

RFE/RL: What do you think will happen to relations between Russia and Ukraine once the gas crisis is resolved?

Grigorii Yavlinskii: I think the level of irritation between Russia and Ukraine will only increase. Putin is restoring the term "Soviet threat" -- that is, he is bringing back to life not just some random elements of the Cold War, but its most destructive aspect.

This whole conflict is highly detrimental to Russia's domestic policy as well, because he is creating a 'feindbild' -- an image of a common enemy. Everything to come out of the Russian propaganda machine during the past month has been an attempt to persuade its citizens to regard a people with whom they are very close, with whom they have lived for centuries, as their enemy, in order to consolidate the citizens' support for the powers that be.

When they were holding [the 4 December City Duma] elections in Moscow, [the pro-presidential party] Unified Russia was distributing leaflets saying, "The citizens are the government's best helpers." This is the ideology. In order to unite people around the government, they are creating this antagonism between Russia and Ukraine.

The principal mistake in Vladimir Putin's current policy is that, in fact, Russia's outlook in the 21st century is good only if it becomes integrated into European structures and generally redirects itself towards Europe. I'm not talking about Brussels, but about European civilization in its entirety. Right now, instead of helping Ukraine move along [toward Europe] and moving along with it, Russia is uselessly trying to prevent Ukraine from doing so, and is itself trying to pursue some sort of "third way." In reality, there is no "third way" -- there's only the Third World.

RFE/RL: Allow me to go back to that phrase, "The citizens are the government's best helpers." How successful do you think this kind of propaganda campaign can be? Can the Kremlin be happy with what it has achieved?

Yavlinskii: Well, the campaign isn't over, but I think part of it is this irritation with Ukraine and talk about Ukrainians stealing gas, instead of talk about corruption in Russia and where Gazprom's money is really going. It's really a means of diverting attention, which will have a significant impact for at least some time. In any case, they are succeeding so far because they have all possible instruments of propaganda at their disposal.

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