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Russia: Yavlinsky -- 'The Eternal Alternative' Loses Support

For the past several years, Grigory Yavlinsky has been the leader of Russia's reformist, pro-democracy and anti-Kremlin opposition. In this Sunday's election, his political future may be at stake: polls show voter support for him this year to be only around 5 percent. RFE/RL correspondent Sophie Lambroschini profiles Yavlinsky.

Moscow, 21 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- "Our eternal alternative." That's how one Russian newspaper ironically describes Grigory Yavlinsky for his principled, anti-Kremlin position.

But Yavlinsky's political influence is waning as his electorate slowly shrinks. He is criticized for being a know-it-all theorist -- a man of words, but not of deeds. Also some analysts -- and Yavlinsky himself -- attribute his flagging support to his statements late last year opposing the popular war in Chechnya.

Speaking to RFE/RL recently, Yavlinsky implied that the presidential election could be politically fatal to him, and to Russia's democratic wing as a whole:

"Today it is indispensable for us to determine the scale of support [we have]. Considering the fate of my party and my future as a Russian politician, that question will have to be discussed after [the election on] March 26."

The evident fall in support for Yavlinsky may explain why he is campaigning more actively on television than he has in the past. An economist by training, Yavlinsky is apparently seeking to change his image of a slightly superior intellectual. On a TV culinary show recently, he was shown cooking Russian dumplings and drinking ample quantities of vodka.

Yavlinsky -- who came in third in the presidential election four years ago, with more than 7 percent of the vote -- is hoping this time to beat Communist candidate Gennady Zyuganov and confront the favorite, acting President Vladimir Putin, in a runoff:

"My main opponent is Putin, because personally I don't see any difference between Putin and Zyuganov. The stages in the battle against Putin are the following: first, I have to beat Zyuganov, and then Putin, because Zyuganov is openly communist and Putin is a closet communist. That's the only difference between them. We have to pose a democratic alternative to the indestructible alliance between Putin and Zyuganov."

Yavlinsky's election platform is quite similar to that of his party, Yabloko, in December's parliamentary election. He favors an anti-monopolistic, social-oriented economy, urges a transition from a conscript-based to a professional army, and argues that Russia's problems are rooted in the Soviet mentality of its current leaders.

"It is indispensable for me to demonstrate how many people in Russia do n-o-t consent to Soviet government methods, do n-o-t agree with the country's militarization, and don't want a spurious [state] policy."

Yavlinsky remains the only major Russian politician to categorically oppose the war in Chechnya. He says that Russia needs a p-o-l-i-c-y in the Caucasus, not a w-a-r, and his peace plan includes negotiating with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Yavlinsky stresses that there can be n-o peace in Chechnya as long as the Russians are turning the locals against them.