Last week, Grigory Yavlinsky surprised his supporters and critics alike by effectively resigning from his post as the Chairman of Yabloko, a political party that he co-founded in 1993 and has led for 15 years. Yavlinsky was succeeded by his long-time loyalist, Yabloko’s Deputy-Chairman, Sergei Mitrokhin.
Despite Yavlinsky’s resignation, he hasn’t actually quit. (Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). He’ll remain a member of the Political Committee, a newly-created body with a broad responsibility for formulating the party’s strategy and controlling its finances.
In a sense, Yavlinsky is a typical "Russian" politician. Where else can you find a leader of a political party who refused to resign after two brutal defeats in a row in parliamentary elections — like those that Yabloko suffered in 2003 and 2007?
Some analysts ascribe Yavlinsky’s remarkable survivability to his political savvy, intelligence, and personal charisma. OK. Yet, one must not overlook the iron hand with which he ran his "democratic" party, the mercilessness with which he crushed any attempt at dissent. No one was spared; even people who stood with Yavlinsky at the cradle of the party: Yuri Boldyrev was forced out of Yabloko in 1995, and Vladimir Lukin in 2004.
Attempts to explain Yavlinsky’s resignation by succumbing to the pressure of the "opposition" — led by Maxim Reznik, the head of the St. Petersburg branch — ignore the fact that Mitrokhin has won 75 of the total 125 votes of the Yabloko top brass (to Reznik’s 24). Given that margin, there is no doubt that had Yavlinsky decided to stay, he would have been re-elected in a landslide.
The key to understanding Yavlinsky’s decision and his future — and, by implication, the future of the party — is his early March meeting with Putin. Reportedly, Putin offered Yavlinsky "a position in the executive branch of government", something Yavlinsky neither confirmed nor denied. However, now that his protege Mitrokhin is taking over day-to-day operations, Yavlinsky can do something else, while still retaining control of the party. Tellingly, a newly adopted amendment to the Yabloko charter allows its members to participate in "state structures."
"Izvestiya" has reported that Yavlinsky may become Russia’s Ambassador to Ukraine. Also possible, however less likely, is that he will join a (state-controlled) commercial structure and spend the next few years earning big bucks.
As for Yabloko itself, I suspect that Yavlinsky’s departure signals the beginning of its end. My prediction is that within a year or so, Yabloko will merge with Just Russia.