Highly Critical Putin Adviser Steps Aside

Andrei Illarionov, left, shown speaking with President Vladimir Putin, said Russia was no longer democratic.
Andrei Illarionov, left, shown speaking with President Vladimir Putin, said Russia was no longer democratic. (Associated Press)
By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 28, 2005

MOSCOW, Dec. 27 President Vladimir Putin's top economic adviser resigned Tuesday, six days after declaring at a news conference that Russia "is no longer a democratic country."

Andrei Illarionov, 44, had established a reputation as a maverick within the Kremlin. He frequently criticized the state's increased involvement in the economy, including the dismantling of the Russian energy giant Yukos and the acquisition of some of its prime assets by a state-controlled company.

At last Wednesday's news conference, an annual event at which Illarionov has often engaged in rhetorical fireworks, he expanded his economic critique to question the country's level of political freedom.

"This year Russia has become a different country," said Illarionov, citing a recent report by the U.S.-based Freedom House that documented the expansion of Kremlin powers. "It is no longer a democratic country. It is no longer a free country."

The remarks sparked speculation that Illarionov would be forced out. He is despised by some Putin advisers who favor state intervention.

Announcing his resignation Tuesday, Illarionov said the most important reasons were "the change in economic policy and economic model, the change in the political regime, and the emergence of a corporatist model of the state."

"Six years ago, when I took this position, I was planning to create conditions to increase economic freedom in Russia," he said. "The situation has radically changed, and there is no longer room to follow a policy of economic freedom."

The Kremlin reported later Tuesday that Putin signed a decree dismissing Illarionov, the Associated Press reported.

One of Illarionov's aides, reached by phone, said the economic adviser didn't wish to comment further.

Vladimir Pribylovsky of the Panorama research institute in Moscow called the resignation inevitable: "He was forgiven for his economic criticism, but when he said the country was no longer free, the president could no longer put up with it."

Illarionov holds a doctorate in economics from Leningrad State University and was an adviser to then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin before being dismissed in 1994.

In 1998, the economist warned publicly that a debilitating financial crisis was about to hit Russia, at a time when other senior officials denied such a danger existed. Shortly afterward, the country devalued its currency and defaulted on much of its debt.

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