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Russia’s former finance minster sets up right-of-center think tank

April 06, 2012, 16:49 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

Russia’s ex-finance minster and ex-deputy prime minster, Alexei Kudrin, dismissed over disagreement with President Dmitry Medvedev, has declared the creation of a Civil Initiatives Committee – a think tank with a still unclear status and functions. Analysts are wondering if the committee will eventually be converted into a right-of-center liberal party that many have long expected Kudrin to establish, or serve as a sort of “shadow cabinet,” counterbalancing a future Medvedev-led government. In any case on the liberal flank, not represented in parliament, the former finance minister has many competitors, and their number keeps growing.

Alexei Kudrin has made up his mind regarding his political future at last. On Thursday he declared he had no intention of taking any position in any body of power. Although after his resignation from the posts of deputy prime minister and finance minster many rumors about his future appointments began to circulate. But Kudrin has now decided to stay aloof from the authorities to have established a Civil Initiatives Committee.

The newly-established body will be advancing creative ideas “for the sake of the country’s development under the best cases scenario.” The founders do not rule out that their organization might undertake to play the role of a “shadow cabinet.” In any case, the committee is certain that experts will be able to adjust the course of the Russian authorities.

Kudrin said that he had not discussed the committee’s ideas either with President-elect Vladimir Putin or with the incumbent president, Dmitry Medvedev. “It was my own decision. The committee will be created on the basis of my own fund, without the establishment of a legal entity.”

However, as quite a few sources quoted by the mass media indicate, the former government minister has retained an excellent relationship with Vladimir Putin. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the committee will draft a report by autumn, to be presented to the new president.

“Today we have united on a non-partisan basis many professionals employed in the key spheres – the economy, sciences, education, the health service, and culture – with the aim to determine and implement the best case scenario of the country’s development,” the committee said in a statement. It was conceived as a think tank capable of transforming civil initiatives into specific decisions by the authorities.

Among its members, alongside Alexei Kudrin, one finds board chairman of the Institute of Modern Development (INSOR), Igor Yurgens, governor of the Kirov Region Nikita Belykh, former co-leader of the Right Forces Union party, Leonid Gozman, and TV hosts Vladimir Pozner and Nikolai Svanidze.

As Yurgens has explained to the daily Kommersant, the committee will have three platforms. One for the advancement of socially important projects, such as Fair Courts, School of Local Self-Government, Open Budget, Transparent Police, Health Service for All, etc. Another platform will be analytical, related with the analysis of the current economic and social course. And the third platform, a communicative one, will involve interaction with the mass media, non-governmental organizations and just people who would like to display their potential but have remained on the sidelines so far.

Moreover, the head of the INSOR board does not rule out that the committee will serve as a sort of “shadow cabinet.” “Whether this task will be accomplished will depend on us,” he said.

“We shall try to formulate our own opinion of all problems that the government and the president will be dealing with,” he said. “But we have no aim of creating a parallel body of power.”

Nor is the issue of creating a party on the current agenda, said Kudrin. “We have got together not for the sake of founding a party. We shall participate in the social movement. Possibly, we may even support some candidates in this or that election. But let say once again – we are not creating a party.” At the same time he did not rule out that in the future he may be participating in efforts to create a right-of-center political party.”

Kudrin had an idea of creating a political party a while ago, but after Mikhail Prokhorov’s failure he took a cooler attitude to that idea, said the director of the Institute of the World Economy and International Affairs under the Russian Academy of Sciences, INSOR board member Alexander Dynkin, quoted by the daily Izvestia. “In modern politics such civil movements become popular.”

However, far from everybody believes Kudrin. “It is hard to imagine a different way of achieving the declared goal – identification and implementation of the best option of the country’s development – other than the creation in the near future of a new political party, or at least a front, on the basis of the Kudrin-led committee,” says the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.

“At this point it is not even a structure, but a cocktail of more or less known names that embody the so-called liberal part of the spectrum,” a member of the science council of the Center for Current Politics, Alexei Chesnakov, told Kommersant. The expert believes it is too early to discuss the committee’s future, because among the mentioned personalities there is not a single competent organizer or coordinator.”

The committee may become a lobbying resource and a think tank, Vedomosti says. Kudrin and his partners will be trying to transform their own professional reputation into political capital irrespective of the likely lineup of forces after the inauguration. They will be prepared for joint projects with the authorities and with the Opposition. The committee’s members, the daily speculates, will be able to become part of a new government in case of an economic crisis or a change of the political situation. Very same Kudrin might become a prime minister. He may have new opportunities for serving as a go-between in the dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. Kudrin has not burned a single bridge behind him.

The intention of the committee’s members to adjust the country’s political course in the right-wing liberal direction looks like a new response to the latest events in politics,” says the daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta. This is a sort of reply to the December rallies and demands from civil society. A discussion site is being created, not for demonstrators, but for experts. It may accumulate the discontent of right-wing liberals.

In the meantime, on the right liberal flank a certain upsurge in activity was observed lately. Big business tycoon, Mikhail Prokhorov, who was the sole candidate in the presidential election with a right-wing image, has published an article about how he will be creating a new party called Civic Platform.

The program of the Civic Platform, which looks like a declaration, is rather hazy. Prokhorov writes about the need for fair discussions and for new effective managers, he criticizes ‘nano-parties,’ and he promises that there will be a new party, a movement of a new type without the customary hierarchy involving a wide range of non-partisan civil activists. But the declaration contains no clear oppositional or ideological benchmarks, which is quite reasonable from the tactical point of view. The party is yet to be created.

Analysts believe that Prokhorov and his future party have not yet caused the Kremlin’s rejection. However, the authorities have tried to complement this sector with more loyal and predictable figures.

On Thursday, the chairman of Business Russia, member of the All-Russia People’s Front Boris Titov declared the creation of his own right-wing liberal movement Right Course. Right away he suggested amnestying corrupt civil servants who would pay an income tax from their secret accounts and properties.

Experts attribute the growing activity on the right liberal flank to tighter competition among its participants. The president of the fund Petersburg Politics, Mikhail Vinogradov, is quoted by the RBC Daily as saying public statements by one politician might prompt others to come out with their ideas now, so as not to drop out of sight of the right-wing electorate.

 MOSCOW, April 6