- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Flying the coop

“I was the canary in the coal mine, and I could not stay if I felt I was not producing an impact.”

That’s Russian economist Andrei Illarionov’s succinct explanation for why he felt compelled to resign in December after five eventful years in the Kremlin as President Vladimir Putin’s top economic adviser. The departure of Mr. Illarionov, widely seen as the most forceful voice for pro-market reforms in Russia, was a major blow to the image of Mr. Putin’s government, our correspondent David R. Sands reports.

The 45-year-old St. Petersburg native has just been named senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute’s new Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, which is devoted to studying the link between economic liberty and political freedoms, human rights and development around the globe. In fluent English, he talked about his colorful career and new post in a lunch with editors and reporters at The Washington Times last week. He plans to divide his time between the United States and Russia.

Mr. Illarionov has been at the center of Russian economic policy-making virtually from the day the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. He was part of the reformist economic team assembled by Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar in the early post-communist period, advised Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in the mid-1990s, and, after a spell running his own think tank, was persuaded by Mr. Putin to re-join the government in 2000.

He declines to discuss his personal dealings or his advice to Mr. Putin, but he leaves little doubt that he thinks Russia’s democratic freedoms have been under assault for at least the past four years.

“The reasons I resigned were political, not economic,” he said. “It was impossible to be blind to our slippage into a non-free status, even as I raised the issue many times in my post. There has been an organized assault on all democratic institutions, from mass media and political parties to private business and religious organizations.”

Mr. Illarionov played a critical role in Russia’s successful drive for full membership in the Group of Eight industrial powers but said the G-8 membership did not prove a spur to political reforms in Moscow. A turning point, he added, was the Kremlin’s campaign against Yukos Oil Co. chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky in 2003, which landed the Putin critic in jail and his company under government control.

“Personally, I had invested a lot in bringing market reforms to Russia and opening it to the world,” Mr. Illarionov said, “but I felt I could only play that role if the country as a whole was moving in the right direction.”

“To be economic adviser to a dictatorship is a pretty high price to pay, so I resigned,” he said.

Edward H. Crane, president of the Cato Institute, said the new center recruited Mr. Illarionov because of his record of “speaking truth to power inside the Kremlin.”

“He is one of the most courageous men I have had the privilege of knowing,” Mr. Crane said.

Mr. Illarionov said his work at the Washington think tank will focus on the challenge to free markets and economic liberty from Russia and a growing number of countries, including China.

“One of the lessons I learned from the Russian experience is that freedom is indivisible,” he said. “If liberty dies in one country, there is a price paid for other countries as well. And now the non-free countries have begun to coordinate, which will pose a much greater challenge to us than ever before.”

Help for Zambia

Zambia has “made significant progress” in the fight against the AIDS virus, the U.S. Embassy in Lusaka said yesterday, announcing $149 million in a grant for the free distribution of drugs to fight the deadly disease.

The drugs will help 70,000 people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, the embassy said. About 16 percent of Zambia’s 11 million people are infected with the virus.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]


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