'Syria is a trap for Russia,' says Putin rival Grigory Yavlinsky

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Interview Grigory Yavlinsky

In an exclusive interview with DW, Russian economist and politician Grigory Yavlinsky says Putin's policy of protecting the Syrian regime was not in Russia's interest. Yavlinsky sees no change in Kremlin's policies.

Russian economist and politician Grigory Yavlinsky is best known for drafting historic market reforms for former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, which led to the Soviet Union's transition from a centrally planned economy to a free market.

Yavlinsky, a known critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was one of his challengers in the March presidential elections.

Yavlinsky, who founded the Yabloko party, spoke to DW on Putin's reform plans and Russia's role in the Syrian War.

DW: Mr. Yavlinsky, German Chancellor Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin are going to meet in Sochi to talk about business and the economy. Putin plans to modernize Russia with the help of Germany, with the help of the West. Can this work?

Yavlinsky: Honestly, I have no idea about that kind of a plan of Mr. Putin. What I see in reality: I see the annexation of Crimea, I see the suppression of free press, I see the limitations almost everywhere and the isolation [of Russia] on the international level. I don't expect any reforms or any real changes in the forthcoming future. Sochi is certainly a nice place but I don't think any real change is going to take place.

Read more: Putin 4.0: What to expect from the Russian president's next term

DW: But there is a new government in Russia and everybody expects something is going to happen.

Yavlinsky: Nobody expects any changes including the people in the Kremlin. They are all saying no surprise. And I am saying not only no surprise but I think this is absolutely the same government with the same Mr. Putin.

DW: You have been very vocal about the war in Syria. What do you mean by that?

Yavlinsky: Syria for Russia is a trap — a trap that is not going to yield positive results. The attempt of Mr. Putin to protect [President Bashar] Assad has nothing in common with Russia's national interests or with the interest of Russian security or with the interest of Russia's future. The policy of protecting totalitarian regimes is not a policy that is in the interest of the Russian people. So the money and the lives lost in these causes are not giving any fruitful results for my country. This policy is a wrong policy. The same I can say about the policy vis-a-vis Ukraine, eastern Ukraine, Donbass. All this is bringing Russia to a dead end.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

The interview was conducted by DW's Moscow correspondent, Miodrag Soric.

Vladimir Putin: The road to power

KGB cadet

Born in St.Petersburg in 1952, Putin signed up with the Soviet intelligence agency the KGB right out of law school in 1975. His first assignment was to monitor foreign nationals and consulate employees in his home city, then called Leningrad. He was then assigned to Dresden, East Germany. He reportedly burned hundreds of KGB files after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Vladimir Putin: The road to power

Political mentor

Putin was one of the deputies to St Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak from 1991 to 1996. Sobchak met Putin at Leningrad State University and the two men were close until Sobchak's death in 2000. Despite accusations of corruption, Sobchak was never charged.

Vladimir Putin: The road to power

Meteoric rise

Putin quickly leapt from St.Petersburg to Moscow. In 1997, President Boris Yeltsin gave Putin a mid-level position on his staff — a position Putin would use to cultivate important political friendships that would serve him in the decades to come.

Vladimir Putin: The road to power

Death of a friend

Putin was deeply affected by Anatoly Sobchak's death in 2000. After the apprentice outstripped his teacher politically, Sobchak became a vocal early proponent of Putin's bid for the presidency. A year earlier, Putin used his political connections to have fraud allegations against Sobchak dropped, the beginning of a pattern for friends of the former spy.

Vladimir Putin: The road to power

Temporary president

In June 2000, Boris Yeltsin stepped down, leaving his prime minister to become interim leader. As he was running for his successful presidential campaign, corruption allegations from his time on the city government in St.Petersburg resurfaced. Marina Salye, the lawmaker who brought up the claims, was silenced and forced to leave the city.

Vladimir Putin: The road to power


When Putin was constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term in 2008, his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ran in his stead. When Medvedev was elected, he appointed Putin as premier. This led to criticism of a "tandemocracy," in Moscow, with many people believing that Medvedev was Putin's puppet.

Vladimir Putin: The road to power


In March 2018, Vladimir Putin was elected to his fourth term as president. Because the presidential term has been extended, this means Putin will be in power for the next six years. However, the election was marred by a lack of opposition to the incumbent, as well as allegations of vote tampering and ballot-stuffing.