Outspoken Putin Aide Quits, Scolding Kremlin

By C.J. CHIVERS

New York Times

December 28, 2005

MOSCOW, Dec. 27 - The most outspoken of President Vladimir V. Putin's senior advisers abruptly resigned Tuesday, warning that Russia's nascent political freedoms have been lost and that the Kremlin's economic choices have been poor. He also said he had no more ability to influence the government's course.

The adviser, Andrei N. Illarionov, 44, had been an economic adviser to the Kremlin since shortly after Mr. Putin took office nearly six years ago. His tenure in recent years had turned publicly rocky, and he had become an occasional but memorable critic of Kremlin policy.

In what was probably his final appearance as part of Mr. Putin's administration, Mr. Illarionov stuck to past form on Tuesday, criticizing the government in terms no other Kremlin insider has dared.

"Six years ago, when I took up this post, I devoted my work to creating the conditions for increasing economic freedoms in Russia," he said, according to the news agency Itar-Tass. "In the last year it has become clear that not only has economic policy become different, but the economic model itself in the country has, too."

Mr. Illarionov also struck at the Kremlin's centralization of power and muzzling of critics. "There has been a change in the political regime," he said. "It is one thing to work in a partly free country such as Russia was six years ago. But it is quite another when the country has ceased to be politically free."

The Kremlin made no public comment on the aide's resignation, and Mr. Putin's press service declined to answer questions about it. Mr. Illarionov, through his spokeswoman, also declined further comment.

Mr. Illarionov's departure managed to be unexpected but unsurprising at once.

His scalding assessment of the Kremlin's management of Russian affairs seemed an extension of frustration he has expressed in previous public remarks, reaching back to late in 2004, when he called the forced sale of the Yukos oil company's main pumping asset "the swindle of the year."

Shortly after that comment, he was stripped of his duties as the Kremlin's envoy to the Group of 8 industrial nations.

More recently, on Dec. 21, according to news reports, he scolded the government for following what he called a "corporatist" model that had left it out of touch with the Russian people, and said the Kremlin played favorites with businesses, unfairly attacking some with back-tax claims while supporting others.

He noted as well that several private companies, including the oil giant Sibneft and heavy machine concern OMZ, were being absorbed by state firms, often in sales where the playing field is not level.

On foreign policy, he criticized the manipulation of Russia's energy reserves not merely as an instrument of foreign policy, but as what he called "a weapon."

The remark carried resonance because Russia and Ukraine, which have been redefining their relations since Ukraine tilted westward during the "Orange Revolution" last year, have been locked in a quarrel over natural gas prices and transit fees.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of trying to raise prices and tighten supply during the winter as part of an effort to influence Ukraine's parliamentary elections in March, and help a pro-Kremlin coalition take power.