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Russia: Two Liberal Parties Join Forces

Russia's liberal Yabloko party has joined a parliamentary coalition with the Union of Right Forces, or SPS. Both parties present the move as a step toward consolidating Russia's motley assortment of pro-democratic, pro-market movements. RFE/RL's Moscow correspondent Sophie Lambroschini looks at the marriage's chances of enduring.

Moscow, 21 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- In their coalition agreement, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces say they want to consolidate liberal, democratic forces. They say their parties want to help Russia build a civil society with market reforms and the rule of law.

Two of the leaders, Yabloko head Grigory Yavlinsky and Boris Nemtsov of the SPS, said their coalition was also formed to fight what they called the government's "attack on democratic rights and freedoms."

At a press conference announcing the coalition agreement today, one of the top SPS leaders, Irina Khakamada, said liberalism is a force to be reckoned with.

"More and more, the signals are being sent that liberalism is once and for all discredited in Russia. We don't believe this, and we want to demonstrate our power of political influence by taking these decisions."

The coalition is planning to present a single joint candidate in gubernatorial and mayoral elections, run a single list in Russia's next parliamentary elections in 2003, and field a single presidential candidate in 2004.

First moves toward consolidation appeared last January, when the two factions joined forces to boycott Duma sessions in protest against the pro-Kremlin Unity faction's power-sharing deal with the Communists. The two parties are each poorly represented in the Duma -- the SPS has 24 deputies and Yabloko just 16 out of a total of 450.

So far, the two factions have held a common position on some issues in the Duma. They also presented a single candidate in last month's elections in Saint Petersburg, although their coalition came just a week before elections and their candidate lost to the incumbent by a very large margin. Now the SPS-Yabloko coalition plans to oppose a bill, put forward by President Vladimir Putin and set to pass in a second reading on Friday, that would allow governors to dismiss mayors.

But can the coalition hold? Despite their common views on economic reform, the parties have in the past defended very different ideas.

Yabloko has always presented itself as the hard-line democratic opposition to the Kremlin -- whether under Yeltsin or Putin. When a Yabloko member joined a Yeltsin cabinet, he was kicked out of the party. During presidential elections, Yabloko stuck to its line, opposing the war in Chechnya and the candidacy of Vladimir Putin.

The Union of Right Forces, on the other hand, is itself a motley association of politicians who hold very different views on the Kremlin. SPS is supported by Kremlin critic and human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov, for example. But it also includes former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, who recently accepted an appointment as one of Putin's seven governor generals. Ahead of the presidential elections, the SPS was split between supporters and opponents of Putin. In addition, electricity monopoly boss Anatoly Chubais, one of the oligarchs regularly criticized by Yabloko, also supports the SPS, and is said to be one of its main financiers.

One prominent political analyst, Aleksei Chesnakov, says that as long as Chubais and Kirienko, who are loyal to Putin, remain in the SPS, liberal forces can never unite.

But another analyst, Mark Urnov from the Foundation for Analytical Programs, points out that the two parties have little to lose in attempting to unite, as neither has garnered much support on its own.