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When hated in Russia, run for office

Unapologetic of its policies, an alliance of pro-West reformers joins

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They were the broom that was going to sweep Russia into the modern era of capitalism and democracy. Young, liberal, Western-oriented, and schooled in market economics, they were the antithesis of dogmatic Communist apparatchiks.

Promoted by President Boris Yeltsin to the highest levels of government through the post-Soviet years, their presence was seen in the West as the best guarantee that Russia's transition was on track.

Then came the financial crash of 1998, and the youthful champions of fast-track market reform started to look more like con artists than saviors to a long-suffering Russian public.

Today, as campaigning for the Dec. 19 parliamentary elections gets under way in earnest, they are fighting what many experts say is a hopeless battle to stave off political oblivion.

"Our main aim is to preserve the ideas of democracy and the market for eight years or so, until a new generation of politicians can make it reality," says Irina Khakamada, a leader of the Union of Right-Wing Forces, an alliance formed late last month in Moscow.

Most of the Kremlin's most famous champions of reform are standing together on a single electoral ticket, which experts say Russians will probably savage at the polls.

Even Ms. Khakamada agrees. "We are ready to be an aggressive voice in the wilderness," she says.

The new movement's list of founders reads like a Who's Who of past Yeltsin governments. It includes two former prime ministers: Yegor Gaidar, who launched Russia's reforms in 1992 with price liberalization and privatization, and Sergei Kiriyenko, who steered them onto the rocks of last year's financial collapse.


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