Yavlinsky, Grigory Alexeyevich

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(b. 1952), liberal economist and party leader.

Grigory Alexeyevich Yavlinsky was a prominent advocate of economic reform under Mikhail Gorbachev and went on to found Yabloko, one of the few liberal parties to survive the turbulent 1990s. Yavlinsky was a consistent advocate of market reform, liberal democracy, and partnership with the West, but his principled stance meant that he declined repeated invitations from President Boris Yeltsin to take up a government position.

Yavlinsky was born into a teacher's family in Lvov (Ukraine) and studied labor economics in Moscow, finishing a graduate degree in 1976. He worked at various research institutes before being appointed deputy head of the new State Commission for Economic Reform in 1989. The next year he coauthored the bold "400 days" reform plan (later renamed "500 days"), which was never implemented because of the political chaos that preceded the Soviet collapse.

During the August 1991 coup, Yavlinsky joined the defenders of the White House, and afterwards he became deputy prime minister in the new Soviet government, which fell when the USSR was dissolved in December. Rival economist Yegor Gaidar joined Yeltsin's team in the Russian Federation government, and it was he, not Yavlinsky, who oversaw Russia's transition to a market economy. Yavlinsky was left criticizing the program of what he called " nomenklatura privatization" from the sidelines.

Yavlinsky's consuming ambition was to be elected as president. Intelligent, articulate, and principled, he had some important admirers in the West. But he was less successful in forging alliances with other politicians (i.e., regional leaders, or retired general Alexander Lebed) that could have brought him closer to power.

Given the absence of an obvious successor, had Yeltsin resigned on health grounds, Yavlinsky would have had a good shot at the presidency. However, the sickly Yeltsin soldiered on. In the first round of the presidential election on June 16, 1996, Yavlinsky placed a disappointing fourth with 7.3 percent. Yavlinsky reportedly received substantial financial backing from banks such as Most and Menatep; he was certainly able to mount an expensive TV ad campaign. Yavlinsky refused to support Yeltsin in the second round of the election, thereby deeply angering the Yeltsin camp.

Yavlinsky hung on, waiting for Yeltsin's resignation. After the August 1998 financial crisis brought down Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, the communists in the Duma refused to approve the return of Viktor Chernomyrdin as prime minister. Yavlinsky resolved the impasse by proposing Yevgeny Primakov as a compromise candidate. But then, in typical Yavlinsky fashion, he refused to join Primakov's cabinet.

When Yeltsin resigned in December 1999 he was able to hand over the presidency to his chosen successor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who easily won election in March 2000. Yavlinsky ran once again, but finished a distant third, with 4.8 percent. He then stood by as Putin went on to introduce many of the reforms that Yavlinsky had advocated for years: a flat tax on income and profits, land reform, and tighter control over oil revenues.

Yavlinsky comes across as a man of integrity and ambition who failed to realize his potential. In the words of one commentator, he was "the best president Russia never had."

See also: august 1991 putsch; yabloko


Rutland, Peter. (1999). "The Man Who Would Be King: A Profile of Grigorii Yavlinskii." Problems of Post-Communism 46: 4854.

Peter Rutland