The St. Petersburg Times (Ru)
By Catherine Belton
MOSCOW — Opposition leaders will hold an alternative summit in Moscow less than a week before the G8 meeting to protest what they call a clampdown on democratic and economic freedoms under President Vladimir Putin.
Organizers, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and former presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, said Wednesday that the “Different Russia” summit would be held July 11-12 and bring together opposition leaders as diverse as former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and National Bolshevik Party head Eduard Limonov.
Dignitaries from other G8 nations, including two assistant secretaries of state from the United States and the British ambassador to Russia, were expected to attend, the organizers said.
“The model the official Russia is pursuing is the model of monopoly: a monopoly on the economy, on business, on politics and on so-called managed civil society and on ideology,” Illarionov said at a news conference. “There can be no such thing as a monopoly. … We have to present the alternatives so that the country realizes it has a choice.”
Current policies to strengthen the Kremlin’s power over business, parliament and nongovernmental organizations are taking away citizens’ freedom of choice in the economy, politics and elections, he said.
Kasparov said the summit would discuss a growing risk that Putin would remain in power past 2008, in breach of the Constitution. “I don’t know when there will be an election in Russia,” he said. Putin has repeatedly denied he would seek to change the Constitution to run for a third term.
The alternative summit comes amid Western concern that democracy is being eroded under Putin. A number of Western politicians, including U.S. Senator John McCain, have called on Russia to be kicked out of the G8.
Illarionov and Kasparov agreed Russia did not fit the criteria imposed on other members of the club of the world’s most-industrialized nations, especially due to its lack of democracy. But a boycott of the July 15-17 summit in St. Petersburg would do little to improve matters, while merely attending the summit would give “a stamp of support to the Kremlin’s policy of destruction of civil freedoms,” Illarionov said.
Illarionov said other G8 leaders could pursue “a third way” of dealing with the problem. He declined, however, to disclose what that third way was.
No one at the Kremlin could be reached for comment on the alternative summit Wednesday.
Kremlin-linked political analyst Sergei Markov said the summit would be “another blow to the image of Putin abroad.” But inside the country it would serve to strengthen Putin’s drive to consolidate power, he said. “They are being funded by [businessman Boris] Berezovsky,” he said. “This will be another step to discredit liberalism in Russia.”
Alexander Osovtsov, an organizer and former director of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia, said the alternative summit would be held at Moscow’s Renaissance Hotel and was being funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy and Russian groups, which he declined to identify. He said the conference would cost several million dollars.