New York Times
January 4, 2005
MOSCOW, Jan. 3 - President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday abruptly reduced the responsibilities of a senior adviser who last week issued a sweeping criticism of the Kremlin's leadership and expressed deep misgivings about the direction in which Russia was headed.
In a presidential decree released without further comment, Mr. Putin relieved the adviser, Andrei N. Illarionov, of his duties as Russia's envoy to the Group of 8, comprising the world's major industrialized nations and Russia. Mr. Putin reassigned those duties to a presidential aide who is seemingly a more loyal Kremlin insider, Igor I. Shuvalov.
Mr. Illarionov, 43, has been an economics adviser to Mr. Putin since 2000, and at times a vocal critic of the Kremlin's course. Both the Kremlin and Mr. Illarionov's spokeswoman said that for the moment he would retain his principal post. But his sudden removal as envoy to the Group of 8 carried an implicit rebuke.
In a long news conference here last week and then in an interview on an independent radio station, Mr. Illarionov issued a searing and comprehensive assessment of the state of affairs in Russia, saying the country had sharply shifted direction for the worse, and risked becoming a third world state.
For more than a year the debate about Russia's course and its political chill has been lively, with much public worrying over the plans and judgment of Mr. Putin and the group of former K.G.B. officers with whom he tightly controls the nation's political life. What made Mr. Illarionov's remarks so striking was not their substance - they reflect widely held views among Western critics of the Kremlin and those few in Russia who still risk speaking publicly - but their source, from an insider.
Mr. Illarionov described the government as both arbitrary and wrong-headed, criticizing the Kremlin's crackdown on the news media, its expropriation of the main asset of Yukos, the oil giant, its centralization of political power and its foreign relations.
His assessments were unsparing. He called the seizure last month of the Yukos unit "the swindle of the year."
In the government's attack on a healthy company, and its signals about which companies were Kremlin favorites, Mr. Illarionov said, "financial flows are rerouted from the most effective companies to the least effective ones."
Moreover, Mr. Putin's decision to do away with elections for governors throughout Russia, and to appoint governors through the presidency, Mr. Illarionov said, ensured that political competition was undermined, to ill effect. "Limited competition in all spheres of life leads to one thing," he said. "To stagnation."
At times Mr. Illarionov also appeared to put himself personally at odds with Mr. Putin, for example, dismissing as absurd Kremlin defenses of the Yukos seizure. Mr. Putin has been vocal in his support of Yukos's near liquidation.
"This entire affair regrettably demonstrates that any of the official or semiofficial explanations given to the public regarding the Yukos affair do not have a leg to stand on," the economics adviser said.
Mr. Illarionov also spoke warmly of the United States bankruptcy judge in Texas who had tried to block the auction of the Yukos unit, even though only days before Christmas Mr. Putin had personally ridiculed her at his own news conference.
"We should thank the Texas court and the judge for having done everything possible to help Russia avoid falling into the abyss they have pushed us to," Mr. Illarionov said.
Finally, Mr. Illarionov congratulated Ukrainian voters and demonstrators for successfully overturning the fraudulent presidential election of Nov. 21, and forcing a new vote last month that the opposition candidate, Viktor A. Yushchenko, appears to have won. Mr. Putin had supported the government's candidate, Viktor F. Yanukovich.
In a biting portion of his remarks at the news conference, Mr. Illarionov sarcastically thanked fellow Russian politicians for so clumsily handling their support of Mr. Yanukovich, who appeared to have won an earlier round of voting accompanied by widespread accusations of electoral fraud, saying that they helped energize the opposition.
"One has to pay tribute to our colleagues, who did all they could, by making their crude, uncouth and offensive statements," he said, because as a result Ukrainians "who may not have intended to vote or least did not intend to vote for Mr. Yushchenko, did go to the polls and cast ballots and made Mr. Yushchenko's win so convincing, so obvious and so doubtless."
Mr. Yushchenko won the race by nearly eight percentage points, according to the Central Election Committee's count. His victory is not official, and awaits the outcome of a court challenge by Mr. Yanukovich.
Having staked so many positions distinctly opposite of Russia's official line, Mr. Illarionov had been expected to attract attention from the Kremlin. His future was unclear Monday night; neither his spokeswoman nor the Kremlin remarked publicly about the reasons behind the presidential decree, or his future in the government.
Last week, however, the Echo of Moscow radio station demonstrated that he had some support away from the Kremlin's walls.
The station, even as Mr. Illarionov appeared on the air, conducted a swift call-in poll, asking listeners to answer one question: Should Mr. Illarionov stay in government and try to influence its decisions, or quit?
The poll lasted four minutes. More than 9,200 people called; 86 percent said he should stay.