- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

In an interview this month at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, Sergei Mironov, speaker of the Russian Federation Council, the country’s upper legislative house, talked about his new center-left party and the need for political reform in Russia. He spoke through an interpreter with reporter David R. Sands.

Question: Some charge that your new party is a creation of the Kremlin, designed to help President Vladimir Putin cover up democratic shortcomings in Russia. How do you respond?

Answer: This allegation is not true. Our new party is the fruit of an alliance of three political parties, and I think the presidential administration was quite unnerved by our union. The leaders of Rodina (Motherland), one of our biggest allies, were actually quite hesitant about going forward with the union. Government officials have tried to deny access for our candidates to the ballot in a number of regions, and I think that is a quite eloquent answer to the charge that we are a pawn of the Kremlin.

Q: What is your new party’s platform?

A: I would like to clarify that mere competition with [ruling party] United Russia is not our main goal, though I do think it is a necessity that Russia have political parties that offer the voters a real choice. Our main goal as a party, our platform, will be to preserve the system of social protection for a majority of the Russian population, to improve living standards and to ensure that wages and pensions are delivered in a timely manner.

Q: Does that mean a move away from free-market, capitalist reforms of the past 15 years?

A: No, we have no plans to alter the basics of the existing economic system, and we are not questioning the major privatization agreements of the past. Our main objective is to preserve social protections for the people as we move ahead. Russia is perhaps the only country in the world where we have an official category of the “working poor.”

We also want to see more accountability for federal and regional officials, with standards to measure how they are dealing with such problems as wages, crime, health and low birth rates.

Q: There has been considerable concern in the West about the state of democracy in Russia and about President Putin’s plans regarding the 2008 election. Do you share those concerns?

A: I think Russia has already passed the test. We have a real democracy and a real society, despite what you sometimes hear in the West. Many of the changes we have made do not give the center more power, but were designed to make local officials and municipal governments more accountable.

By 2008, we will have a new president and a new State Duma. It is my hope our party can add a little pepper to the debate, but I have no concerns about the state of our democracy.

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