Top Putin adviser resigns

Economic expert says Kremlin's choices poor, freedoms being lost

December 28, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

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

The official, Andrei N. Illarionov, 44, had been an economic adviser to the Kremlin since shortly after 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 Putin's administration, Illarionov stuck to past form, 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 Itar-Tass news agency. "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."

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 partially 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 resignation, and Putin's press office declined to answer questions about it. Illarionov, through his spokeswoman, also declined to make any further comment.

Illarionov's scalding assessment of the Kremlin's management of Russian affairs seemed an extension of the frustration he had expressed in previous public remarks, reaching back to late 2004, when he called the forced sale of the Yukos oil firm'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 Eight industrial nations.

More recently, on Dec. 21, according to news reports here, he scolded the government for following what he called a "corporatist" model that had left it out of touch with the Russian populace. He also 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 the heavy machine concern OMZ, were being absorbed by state firms, often in sales where the playing field was 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 resonated as Russia and Ukraine, which have been redefining their relations since Ukraine tilted westward during the Orange Revolution last year, quarrel over natural gas prices and transit fees.

Ukrainian officials accuse 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 bring a pro-Kremlin coalition to power.

Under Putin, Russia has moved to snap up chunks of the strategically important oil sector. The state now controls about 30 percent of the national oil industry.

Last December the biggest oil fields of Yukos - once Russia's No.1 producer - were transferred to the state to reclaim billions in disputed tax bills. This year, the giant gas monopoly Gazprom bought the privately held OAO Sibneft oil company.

The announcement of Illarionov's resignation came as the Russian parliament gave final approval to legislation that will impose strict curbs on human rights and other nonprofit groups. Critics say it is another step by Putin to tighten control of society after moves to put the state in charge of all national broadcasters, impose a Kremlin-loyal parliament and end the direct election of governors in Russia's sprawling regions in favor of officials appointed from Moscow.

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